County OKs e-cigarette ordinance
Published: Tuesday, December 10, 2013 at 9:45 p.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, December 10, 2013 at 9:45 p.m.
The Alachua County Commission on Tuesday approved an e-cigarette ordinance banning the sale of e-cigarettes to minors and banning their use in certain nonsmoking areas, joining neighboring Marion County in supporting such restrictions.
The provisions of the ordinance banning the sale of e-cigarettes to minors and the use of self-service merchandising for the products in stores didn’t draw much debate among the commissioners or most of the people who spoke during public comment at Tuesday evening’s meeting. Keeping e-cigarettes out of the hands of minors and ensuring they are kept behind the counter in stores weren’t contentious proposals.
It was the prohibition against the use of e-cigarettes in areas of the unincorporated county where smoking is prohibited under the Florida Clean Indoor Air Act that most of the residents who spoke at the meeting, which was attended by around 30 people, targeted their comments and which was most debated by the commission.
Commissioner Susan Baird said she opposed only the prohibition on e-cigarette use in nonsmoking areas, not the other two restrictions. There is just not enough evidence to support the ban in nonsmoking areas at this time, she said.
Baird was the only commissioner who voted against the ordinance, which passed in a 4-1 vote.
The ordinance’s ban on the sale to minors will go into effect almost immediately, while the other two provisions will be implemented on July 1, 2014. The measure only applies to the unincorporated county, although the county will reach out to local municipalities to see if they want to be included.
E-cigarettes convert liquid nicotine into vapor through a process known as vaping and don’t include the chemicals found in tobacco cigarettes.
Kathy Nichols, associate director of the University of Florida Area Health Education Centers Program, said the cartridges used in e-cigarettes typically contain a mixture of nicotine and propylene glycol, which is used to create ‘artificial smoke’ in theatrical productions. But the other chemicals included in the cartridges aren’t really known, she said.
“We don’t know what people are inhaling,” she said.
Commissioner Robert “Hutch” Hutchinson was supportive of all three provisions and said he didn’t think the right for someone to pollute the air should supersede one’s right to clean air.
He recalled the first commission meetings he went to years ago when elected officials and audience members alike were smoking during the proceedings and he said everyone in the room Tuesday evening could legally be vaping right then. He also mentioned how smokers used to light up in airplanes years ago.
“There’d be no need for no-smoking bans if smokers had been more responsible in how they used their stuff,” he said.
Just before the vote, Commissioner Mike Byerly said the question is whether the burden of proof to show if this product is safe falls on those introducing it into the public realm or those who are exposed to it, which is a value judgment. Usually, the burden of proof should fall on people introducing the new product, he said.
“We don’t know for sure whether or not it causes harm to people who are exposed to it,” he said. Until that is clear, he said commissioners should exercise caution, so he was comfortable with the ordinance overall. Earlier in the meeting, however, he said he wasn’t ready to vote on the e-cigarette issue yet and said the only controversial action, for him, was whether to prohibit e-cigarette use in nonsmoking areas.
“I heard some really good testimony that kind of crystallized the argument in my mind,” he told The Sun after the meeting regarding why he changed his mind.
The majority of the residents who spoke at the meeting supported banning e-cigarettes from being used in areas where smoking is prohibited.
Dr. Barry Hummel of the Tobacco Prevention Network of Florida pointed out people were exposed to secondhand tobacco smoke for years before the public found out it was harmful. He questioned whether a similar experiment regarding e-cigarettes should be run on the general public until there is a definitive answer as to whether they are harmful.
A man who introduced himself as the father of a new baby said he couldn’t fathom going into TGI Friday’s with his 3-month-old and see someone vaping in the next booth when he doesn’t know what’s in that vapor.
Chandler Ash, a 17-year-old who lives in the county and was sporting a red tie, told the commission he has asthma and doesn’t want to be subjected to chemicals in e-cigarette vapor that could hurt him.
Ash said he has seen e-cigarettes advertised as the world’s smallest fog machine, and it was because of a fog machine that he discovered he had asthma.
A couple of speakers brought up the impacts of smoking on the health of the public and their loved ones, although e-cigarettes are not presently classified as tobacco products by the Food and Drug Administration.
“As a working nurse, I’ve seen too many lung patients in their final moments and it’s a horrible thing to see,” local resident Kali Blount said.
Blount said the term “smoker’s rights” is an oxymoron to him, explaining that he sees a smoker’s right to smoke as parallel to a heroin addict’s right to mainline that drug. He said he thinks e-cigarettes will be a gateway to using regular cigarettes, which was echoed by a few other residents.
While several people spoke out in support of the ordinance, a few self-described ‘vapers’ stepped to the podium to oppose the ban against the use of e-cigarettes in nonsmoking areas.
A man who mentioned he works for a company affiliated with e-cigarettes but said he wasn’t there in that capacity said he had been vaping for five years. Nicotine is a useless drug, he admitted, but it’s his choice to use it and he isn’t breaking any laws to get his fix.
“I am a nicotine addict,” he said. “I have not hawked my body and I have not sold my family property in order to pay for my addiction.”
The issue is whether he is harming those around him with secondhand vapor, he said. His sister’s OBGYN told her she could continue to vape as long as it kept her from smoking cigarettes, he said, and she recently had a healthy baby boy.
He asked the commissioners to look at the research and to not take anything at face value.
“I really don’t know what the outcome of this is going to be,” he said. “I do know that the squeaky wheel gets the grease, and I do know that I have been very reasonable in my smoking behaviors and my vaping behaviors over the years,” he said.
Another man who said he was a former smoker who now vapes told the board he would like to see research on the harmful effects of nicotine and e-cigarette vapor before an ordinance goes into effect.
He also took issue with other speakers’ concerns that e-cigarettes would make kids think smoking is cool. As he spoke, he presented a fake cigar that kids could buy at a store, saying it’s things like this that are the problem.
Contact Morgan Watkins at 338-3104 or email@example.com.