City may ban minors from having e-cigs

FILE - A variety of electronic cigarette flavors available for sample at The Grab Bag Co., 407 NE 23rd Ave in September 2013.

Doug Finger/The Gainesville Sun
Published: Thursday, February 27, 2014 at 6:20 p.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, February 27, 2014 at 6:20 p.m.

Gainesville may soon follow the lead of Alachua County in restricting the use of electronic cigarettes, but with an added twist: The city would make it illegal for minors to have the devices.

The city's Public Safety Committee on Wednesday voted to recommend that the City Commission mirror the ordinance Alachua County approved Dec. 11 banning the sale of e-cigarettes to minors, banning the display of the devices in places where they can be stolen and banning their use in nonsmoking areas.

During the discussion, Gainesville Police Chief Tony Jones proposed making it unlawful for minors to have e-cigarettes. He said he wanted to remain consistent with the way the state treats tobacco products, which makes it illegal for a minor to have or try to buy them.

E-cigarettes, however, do not contain tobacco or tar and do not smell like traditional cigarettes. Instead, they use cartridges that contain a mixture of liquid nicotine and propylene glycol, which creates a vapor cloud effect.

City Commissioner Todd Chase — a committee member who supported the other bans until more reliable data is available — said he felt uncomfortable with Jones' suggestion.

"We just jumped into this out of the blue," he said, adding that he wasn't sure if local government could pre-empt state law.

Assistant city attorney Lee Libby said he would double-check the law before drafting the proposed ordinance but was almost certain he could legally add it.

The county ordinance only affects unincorporated areas of Alachua County. Since Gainesville is incorporated, the City Commission must decide on a similar ordinance.

At a Dec. 19 City Commission meeting, Mayor Ed Braddy forwarded the matter to the Public Safety Committee for discussion and a recommendation to the commission.

Elsewhere in Alachua County, other municipalities are considering the issue. So far, Hawthorne has chosen to opt in to the county's ordinance, Micanopy is considering doing so, Lacrosse is waiting for more scientific research on the issue, and Waldo said there is no reason to apply the ordinance in the city at this time, according to a memo the county released on Thursday.

The most contentious element in previous discussions about e-cigarettes has been their use in places where cigarette smoking is not allowed because of fears about the effects of the vapors. The committee didn't discuss this until after they had voted to recommend the ordinance to the commission.

Andrew Romoro from the Alachua County Health Department said that health concerns about second-hand vapors would likely come up during the commission discussion.

Kathy Nichols, associate director of the University of Florida Area Health Education Centers Program, said some research shows that metal and silicate particles can be found in the aerosol.

When City Commissioner Yvonne Hinson-Rawls — a member of the Public Safety Committee — expressed surprise at that, Chase replied, "I hope you don't ever figure out what's in the food we eat.''

Chase said he could see the provision regarding the use of e-cigarettes in non-smoking areas being a point of contention because people at his work use e-cigarettes and, unlike cigarettes, the vapors are hardly noticeable.

"I can't fathom it's going to do anything to me," Chase said.

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