The Yakima City Council might consider a ban on electronic cigarettes in public areas, following a recent trend by some other cities and college campuses across the country to regulate them the same way as tobacco products.
E-cigarettes are battery-powered and deliver a dose of nicotine, flavor and other chemicals in a water vapor form, so the term “vaping” is often used instead of smoking. Some are manufactured to look just like cigarettes; others look like pipes or pens.
Because the devices have only gained popularity in the past few years, there is still little consensus among health experts and policy makers about the potential risks or benefits of e-cigs.
The tobacco industry wants the product to be recognized as a safer alternative to cigarettes. Some say they may help people quit smoking and could cut down smoking-related deaths if smokers switch from traditional cigarettes. Others fear they could lead to increased nicotine addiction, especially among minors, who could be attracted by the flavored vapor.
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The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently released a report showing use more than doubled among middle- and high-school students from 2011 to 2012.
This year, the Washington Legislature passed a bill making it a gross misdemeanor to sell or give to minors “vapor products” -- defined as “a noncombustible tobacco-derived product containing nicotine that employs a mechanical heating element, battery, or circuit, regardless of shape.” But the state has no established rule as to where people older than 18 are allowed to “vape.”
“There’s a lack of federal regulation at the top; when you don’t have that, you kind of get piecemeal enforcement,” said Mikhail Carpenter, spokesman for the state Liquor Control Board, which enforces liquor and tobacco laws.
The Federal Drug Administration does not yet regulate e-cigarettes, though it plans to soon issue a proposed rule that would lump them in with all other tobacco products and would dictate where they can be used and by whom, how they can be marketed and how they will be taxed.
In the meantime, cities are coming up with their own methods for policing use in public spaces.
Yakima City Council- woman Maureen Adkison said when the issue came before the Public Safety Committee last month, it was the first she’d ever heard of it. Her concern is for second-hand effects.
“What I didn’t know ... is there is a secondary smoke problem. There’s all kinds of things in this mist, and it goes into the air,” she said. “If it’s a health risk, I will certainly vote no for it to be used in an airplane or restaurant.”
Several states, as well as Chicago, Washington, D.C., and a growing number of college campuses around the country have instituted or are currently implementing e-cigarette bans wherever smoking is banned.
The vapor emitted by e-cigarettes dissipates much faster than cigarette smoke, and there is not enough evidence yet to conclude whether it has harmful second-hand effects. Industry advocates say no chemicals are emitted in the vapor, just nicotine. Opponents say the vapor includes carcinogenic chemicals similar to what’s in cigarette smoke.
The City Council has not yet set a date to consider the issue.