Vaping is the trendy term for using an e-cigarette and vaping bars have popped up across the country over the last few years. While the posh lounges that offer flavored vapor cartridges for e-cigarettes have yet to make it big on the Last Frontier, e-cigarette use has gone up. And with that, comes controversy.
At its last meeting, the Homer City Council introduced an ordinance to prohibit the use of e-cigarettes in city structures, vehicles and watercraft. The vote was five to one in favor of introducing it. Council member Beau Burgess was the no vote.
“At this point, there’s little, if any, in the way of definitive evidence that shows that me smoking an e-cigarette or someone else smoking an e-cigarette is harmful to those around them or the general public,” says Burgess.
Smoking has been a polarizing topic for decades now and there are serious, proven health risks associated with it. So, when advances in technology brought about a tobacco-free alternative to the traditional cigarette, it got really popular, really fast. E-cigarettes vaporize nicotine-laced liquid that the ‘vaper’ inhales. It’s tobacco and smoke-free. But, there has been very little research done on the health effects of e-cigs and all of the chemical additives in the liquid.
In April of this year, the US Food and Drug Administration, or FDA, moved forward with getting regulatory power over the product. The FDA got the authority to regulate certain tobacco products through the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act, passed by Congress in 2009.
But, people got concerned and issued a petition to prevent the FDA’s involvement in e-cigarette regulation. In response, the administration stated: “There’s still a lot we don’t know about these products, and this rule will expand the amount of information available to the FDA and the public – that’s good for everyone.”
Burgess says the council shouldn’t act until there is more information.
“I don’t feel like it’s the government’s business to step in and say you can’t do something unless there’s a clear threat to the commons, the environment, or other people’s health," says Burgess. "It might be that in a year or two we have that evidence and we can put this to rest. But, without that, I feel like we might be getting a little ahead of ourselves, even if other municipalities are doing this.”
Council member David Lewis supported the introduction of the ordinance because it would just regulate vaping the same as smoking. People could still vape in their own cars, homes, or in designated smoking areas.
“It bans the e-cigarettes from public buildings, city vehicles and city watercraft," says Lewis. "You can still step out and walk x number of feet from a building and use it. You can use it at the park. It’s just, where smoking is banned inside something, these are banned inside. That’s it. That’s all that this is doing.”
But are vaping and smoking the same? That’s a question states and communities are wrestling with across the country. North Dakota, New Jersey, and Utah prohibit vaping in areas that are already smoke-free. Other states have prohibited vaping in state buildings, hospitals, or prisons. Colorado amended the definition of ‘tobacco product’ to include e-cigs, although they are tobacco-free, and prohibited use on school property until they are approved by the FDA as a tobacco-cessation device.
“E-cigarettes for many people are an alternative to traditional tobacco smoke, or traditional cigarettes, which we do know cause harm to those around them," says Burgess. "And, in my mind, if the very limited, or unknown limited risk posed to the general public by e-cigarette use and the fact that we are more lenient in allowing them in certain places incentivizes anyone to stop smoking regular cigarettes, that’s a huge step in the right direction.”
The FDA tackles that in its response to the petition, as well. It states: “We don’t know enough to make that call.”
It is known that there are carcinogenic chemicals used in the manufacturing of e-cigarettes. So, are they better or worse than traditional cigarettes? That has yet to be decided.
“I agree with Beau that there’s very little evidence that there’s much second-hand problems from e-cigarettes," says council member Francie Roberts, who supported introducing the ordinance. "But, I do think that the example to others could be an issue. I’m going to vote yes to introduce this tonight because I want to hear what the public has to say about this. I think it’s interesting enough. We have a lot of citizens who probably have thought about this also and they can bring some things forward for us to consider. My mind isn’t totally made up, but I do want to introduce it.”
There will be a public hearing and second reading of the ordinance at the next council meeting, scheduled for August 11th.
Regarding the FDA’s seeking to regulate e-cigs, that public comment period ended earlier this month. There will be a final action by June of next year.