Weatherford Democrat

February 22, 2014

Up in vapors

Some question ban on e-cigarettes along with regular tobacco


Weatherford Democrat

— By BRIAN SMITH

Public smoking bans might be the trend these days, but it still doesn’t sit well with some smokers.

A smoker for more than 35 years, Dave Mittingham said the City of Weatherford’s proposed ban on smoking in food establishments is just one way the city is trying to influence business.

“They say they are business friendly, but (what they’re proposing) sure doesn’t sound very friendly to the businesses or to us smokers frankly,” Mittingham said.

Open for public comments at city council’s regular session Tuesday night, Al Warren is opposed to the the inclusion of e-cigarettes in the ban on smoking in places where food is sold, consumed or prepared.

The Weatherford resident said he was a smoker for more than 30 years before taking up the use of e-cigarettes. He says he hasn’t touched a cigarette since September. He says much of the information about e-cigarettes is incorrect, saying the Food and Drug Administration has even modified its stance on the health and safety of its use.

“E-cigarettes have not been fully studied so consumers currently don’t know the potential risks of e-cigarettes when used as intended, how much nicotine or other potentially harmful chemicals are being inhaled during use, or if there are any benefits associated with using these products,” Warren wrote in an e-mail. “Additionally, it is not known if e-cigarettes may lead young people to try other tobacco products, including conventional cigarettes, which are known to cause disease and lead to premature death.”

Electronic cigarettes are battery-powered devices that provide users with aerosol puffs that typically contain nicotine, and sometimes flavorings like fruit, mint or chocolate. They’ve often been described as a less dangerous alternative to regular cigarettes. But there are few studies exploring exactly what chemicals are in them, and in what concentrations, and whether those levels are harmful.

E-cigarettes are controversial. Some experts believe that, at a time when cigarette smoking has finally become passé in popular culture, e-cigarettes could re-glamorize puffing away in public places and that cigarette sales could surge.

“It could go in either direction,” said John Seffrin, the American Cancer Society’s chief executive officer.

If the FDA can ratchet down nicotine in conventional cigarettes to levels below what’s in e-cigarettes, perhaps everyone who clings to smoking will switch to the higher-nicotine new products. That could achieve the end of smoking, at least of combustible, carcinogen-filled cigarettes –  or so the thinking goes.

Texas Municipal League Executive Director Bennett Sandlin said many cities are going toward no smoking in their food establishments. Sandlin had no exact numbers on how many cities statewide have enacted such ordinances, but he said most of the larger cities have put some sort of ban on it while some cities are banning smoking in restaurants altogether.

Weatherford residents taking part in a Weatherford Democrat online poll overwhelmingly are in favor of the proposed ban by a 3-to-1 margin. The poll remains at the top of the WD’s homepage at weatherforddemocrat.com.

One local business owner, who declined to be identified, said if the ordinance is passed, it could cut his business by around 40 percent.

“People here want to come in for a drink and to socialize,” the owner said. “I can’t expand or construct a patio, so I could see the ordinance causing some problems.”

Warren said e-cigarettes do contain propylene glycol, which is contained in antifreeze, but the ingredient is in there to make the anti freeze less toxic.

“Electronic cigarette juice does contain propylene glycol,” Warren stated. “However, it is neither toxic nor a carcinogen. It is, in fact, an FDA approved ingredient used in the manufacture of pharmaceuticals, personal care, and many other products. Most all domestic e-cigarette juices contain only vegetable glycerin, propylene glycol, flavorings, and nicotine.”

Warren agreed some imported Chinese e-cigarette juices do contain elevated amounts of various substances, due to poor quality control.

“E-cigarettes are getting a bad rap because of pressure from misinformed non-smokers and pro-tobacco special interest groups,” Warren said.

One city that already has a smoking ordinance, Frisco, has much tougher regulations. The Collin County city bans smoking of both cigarettes and e-cigarettes in public areas, including schools, theaters, stores, arenas and others. The city council last week banned the use of e-cigarettes by minors and subjected e-cigarettes to the same standards as regular tobacco.

Under the Weatherford proposal, e-cigarettes would still be permissible in a retail tobacco store or in a vapor shop.

Dr. Joel Nitkin, Senior Fellow for Tobacco Policy and the R Street Institute, has been a local health director, a state health director and president of two national public health organizations and has been actively involved with tobacco control since the 1980s. He said tobacco and e-cigarettes are two different things.

“There is no credible public health justification for banning e-cigarettes in no-smoking areas,” Nitkin told the Oregon House Committee on Human Services and Housing. “An estimated 70 percent to 80 percent of the indoor air pollution from cigarettes is due to sidestream smoke – the smoke that curls off the end of the cigarette when no one is sucking on it.

“The smoke exhaled by the smoker contributes relatively little to this pollution. E-cigarettes have no sidestream smoke. The vapor exhaled by the user of the e-cigarette contains traces of hazardous organic chemicals so small that they are not readily measurable above background levels in indoor environments. Propylene glycol – the propellant vehicle used in many e-cigarettes – is generally recognized as safe. It is used for theatrical fog, and is even used in some asthma inhalers.”

Nitkin said treating cigarettes and e-cigarettes the same could have more harmful effects.

“Banning e-cigarettes in no-smoking areas could do harm from a public health perspective by signaling to smokers that e-cigarettes pose the same risk as cigarettes and, by that means, inhibits smokers from switching to these far less hazardous products,” Nitkin said.

City council is encouraging public input on the issue at its Tuesday’s meeting, which begins at 6:30 p.m. City Hall is located at 303 Palo Pinto St.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.