County may ban sale of e-cigs to minors


Johnny "Vapor" Mays draws and exhales a cloud of water vapor as he "vapes," a term used by e-cig users instead of smoking, as he enjoys one of his high nicotine E-Cigarettes that he sells at his kiosk at the Paddock Mall near the the AT&T store Friday morning, July 12, 2013, while helping a customer. The FDA will now begin investigating e-cigarettes to determine if there are ill-effects to people as users or second-hand vapor. Originally, the FDA tried to ban or restrict its usage. A court ruled the FDA must oversea the product as tobacco product. Now the FDA investigates.

Doug Engle/Ocala Star-Banner
Published: Wednesday, October 30, 2013 at 10:02 p.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, October 30, 2013 at 10:02 p.m.

Alachua County may follow Clay County's lead in banning the sale of e-cigarettes to minors.

County Commissioner Robert "Hutch" Hutchinson has advocated such a ban, and the County Commission recently asked its staff to draft an e-cigarette ordinance and bring it back to the board for consideration.

Hutchinson said he gave staff a copy of the Clay County ordinance, which its commission approved in May, as a starting point for drafting one for Alachua County.

The Marion County Commission is also considering a proposed ordinance that would ban selling e-cigarettes to minors, among other restrictions.

E-cigarettes, which are often flavored, convert liquid nicotine into vapor that people inhale. They don't contain the chemicals tobacco cigarettes do.

Smoking an e-cigarette is commonly referred to as vaping. Flavors range from traditional tobacco tastes to chocolate and cola-flavored fare.

The Smoke Free Alternatives Trade Association, a trade organization for the e-cigarette industry, points out on its website that e-cigarettes don't contain tobacco or produce smoke, although it notes that any substance that contains nicotine isn't completely safe. It supports several states' efforts to ban e-cigarette sales to minors, according to a news release.

Hutchinson said he asked the Florida Association of Counties' staff how likely it is that the Florida Legislature will enact e-cigarette legislation during next year's session but was told the issue doesn't have much traction in Tallahassee at the moment. He didn't want the county to go through the trouble of passing its own ordinance only to be pre-empted by a state bill within a matter of months, but FAC's response assuaged those concerns.

Hutchinson would like the County Commission to pass an ordinance that bans the sale of e-cigarettes to minors as well as their use in nonsmoking areas of the county. He also would like to include a requirement that e-cigarettes be placed behind the counter in stores.

Hutchinson sees e-cigarettes as essentially another type of cigarette, which is why he thinks they should be handled the same way.

"Just put them on a level playing field with cigarettes," he said.

When the staff returns with a draft ordinance, the commission will determine if this is something it wants to pursue. If it does, the board will inform staff of any changes that should be made before the ordinance returns to commissioners for further consideration, he said. If his fellow commissioners decide they don't want to pursue the matter, then the board may just let the issue drop.

Local government often leads on regulatory matters, which can eventually spur the Florida Legislature to take action, Hutchinson said. As an academic community, the county should research issues like this and try to come up with the best solutions for them.

"Alachua County is the kind of place where we need to lead and let the Legislature know how we feel and let the other counties know how we feel," he said.

Alyssa Wang, vice chair of Tobacco Free Alachua, said the organization would support an Alachua County ordinance that restricts e-cigarette sales to minors and places those products behind the counter so they can't be easily stolen or as easily seen and advertised to youth.

"That's kind of our main concern because e-cigarettes contain nicotine in the vapor so this nicotine is going to be addictive," she said.

Tobacco Free Alachua is also concerned flavored e-cigarettes could be targeted toward children. It will host an e-cigarette forum on Nov. 22 at the Alachua County downtown library from 2 to 4 p.m. The event is open to its community partners as well as the general public and will provide an opportunity for people to learn more about the potential harm of e-cigarette use as well as to hear from young people about the use of e-cigarettes among their peers.

Contact Morgan Watkins at 338-3104 or morgan.watkins@gainesville.com.

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