House passes Rep. Melo’s e-cigarette legislation

House passes Rep. Melo’s e-cigarette legislation

Rep. Helio Melo

EAST PROVIDENCE — A bill limiting the sale of electronic cigarettes backed by Rep. Helio Melo (D-Dist. 64, East Providence) received near unanimous support from the House of Representatives earlier this week.

Rep. Melo’s legislation would make the selling of e-cigarettes to minors under the age of 18 illegal. It would set criminal penalties for those found in violation.

Much like traditional tobacco cigarettes, proper identification would be required to purchase the electronic variety. In addition, signage noting the illegality of selling to and purchasing by minors must be posted in both English and Spanish.

The bill, which goes to the State Senate today for reconciliation, would also prevent the sale of e-cigarettes in vending machines. The Senate passed its version of the legislation, sponsored Majority Leader Dominick Ruggiero (D-Dist. 4, North Providence) on June 18. The House vote went 68-0 in support. Seven members did not cast a vote.

The fines for violators vary in cost and by offense. A first violation called for a seller to pay $75, the second $150 and the third or any future infractions would cost $500 each. Not posting the proper signage comes with a range of fines from $35 to $500 depending on the number of offenses.

“There’s nothing right now in Rhode Island General Law that prevents children from purchasing e-cigarettes,” Rep. Melo said. “This is a health issue. Most of these products contain nicotine, so children can be exposed to it without even knowing it.”

Critics of the bill in its current form note e-cigarettes continue to be referred to as “vapor products” and do not face the same stringent guidelines as those imposed on traditional tobacco. Rep. Melo said he understands the concerns and will attempt to improve upon it in the future.

“It may not be the perfect bill, but we’re going to continue to work on it and try to improve it next year,” Rep. Melo said.