E-cigarettes face restrictions as cities update smoking ordinances

The electronic cigarettes flooding the U.S. market don’t technically emit smoke, but many cities have decided they’re not much different from ordinary cigarettes.

Last week, Rancho Cordova became the latest local government to pursue restrictions on e-cigarettes; the City Council directed staff members to treat them like regular smokes when they draft amendments to city code sections governing smoking. The Los Angeles City Council also voted last week to restrict e-cigarette use where tobacco smoking is restricted, including restaurants, parks, bars, nightclubs, beaches and workplaces. Similar measures have been approved in a number of Bay Area cities, along with New York and Chicago.

The Davis City Council is scheduled to discuss e-cigarettes tonight.

Representatives of the cities of Roseville and Folsom said e-cigarettes are on their radar, too, though no decisions have been made.

“Our city attorney tells me that he’s just started looking at our existing smoking ordinance, adopted in 1994, and considering incorporating e-cigarette restrictions,” said Sue Ryan, spokeswoman for the city of Folsom. She said the City Council likely will take up the matter within the next couple of months.

Sales of e-cigarettes have skyrocketed in recent years. Big tobacco companies have been getting into the business, and ads for e-cigarettes are now appearing on television, a space where traditional smokes have been banned for more than 40 years. The fast evolution of the market has left governments racing to keep pace.

“Our no-smoking ordinance has been in effect for a long while, but technology has surpassed the ordinance,” said Kelly Stachowicz, Davis’ deputy city manager. “We’re trying to see if we need to catch up or amend the ordinance.”

On a federal level, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration is expected to propose regulations governing the e-cigarette industry. The European Parliament took action last month, adopting measures to ban e-cigarette advertising and require health warnings.

Electronic cigarettes typically use battery-powered heat to vaporize a liquid solution containing nicotine that is held in the mouthpiece of the device. Under state law, it is illegal to sell or give e-cigarettes to minors, but the law does not extend other smoking prohibitions to the devices.

Because they don’t burn, e-cigarettes have been promoted as having fewer secondhand effects, but studies have shown that the vapor contains carcinogens and toxic chemicals, as well as nicotine, an element of tobacco that is highly addictive, said Rancho Cordova City Attorney Adam Lindgren. When the smoker exhales those vapors, they affect people around them, he said, likening the vapors to secondhand smoke.

Although some studies have indicated that e-cigarettes can be effective in helping people quit smoking or reduce their tobacco use, the FDA has not declared them an effective cessation product, said Lindsey Freitas, policy manager for the American Lung Association in California. E-cigarettes are not regulated by the FDA.

The American Lung Association in California advocates treating e-cigarettes as tobacco products. “We’re really concerned that we just don’t know what is in them,” Freitas said.

Rancho Cordova Councilman David Sander said that although there is some evidence that e-cigarettes may help people quit smoking, there also is evidence that they may entice kids to start smoking.

Freitas, of the American Lung Association, said many civic leaders have expressed particular concern that e-cigarettes that come in such flavors as Cap’n Crunch and Gummy Bears are an enticement to youths.

Kate Cook, an attorney who researched e-cigarettes for the Rancho Cordova City Council, said most e-cigarettes come from China and that they are not all the same. Some might contain more carcinogens than others, and metal pieces have been found in some.

From a regulatory perspective, Lindgren said, restricting their use could be supported for public health and welfare reasons.

Attal Sadiq, owner of Gaga Smoke Shop in Rancho Cordova, said he attended the council workshop primarily to gather information.

“Sixty-five percent of what we sell doesn’t have nicotine,” he told the council. Of the customers buying e-cigarettes that do contain nicotine, he said, about 95 percent are doing so to quit smoking.

Diann Rogers, president and CEO of the Rancho Cordova Chamber of Commerce, said she found most businesses in the city were doing a “stellar job of self-regulating.” Most, she said, are treating e-cigarettes as regular cigarettes.

“The comments I received (from chamber members) is that it has become culturally unacceptable to smoke,” Rogers said. “The gist is, they would like to treat e-cigarettes the same as tobacco.”

The public will have plenty of opportunity to weigh in on any proposed changes in Rancho Cordova’s smoking ordinance. Once completed, the proposed ordinance will be the subject of two hearings before the City Council, Lindgren said.

Freitas said more than 45 communities in California have included e-cigarette regulations in their smoking ordinances. Fifty-nine include e-cigarettes in their tobacco retailer license programs, meaning that those who want to sell e-cigarettes must obtain a license. Also, 21 jurisdictions have included e-cigarettes in smoking provisions that apply to housing complexes, she said.

Regulation of e-cigarettes also was mentioned during a February meeting of the city of Sacramento’s Law and Legislation Committee in discussing a possible smoking ban in outdoor dining areas, said city spokeswoman Amy Williams. “However, no direction was given, and we don’t foresee it coming forward anytime soon,” she said.

Freitas said federal action is needed to determine the safety of e-cigarettes. “We just want to reiterate that it is really important for the FDA to assert its authority over e-cigarettes,” she said, “so we can get some clarity of what is actually in them.”

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