by Dennis Dalman
To what extent should electronic cigarettes be regulated?
That was the topic of a public hearing at the Feb. 9 Sartell City Council meeting, which was an effort to get a council consensus for a revised version of the city’s tobacco ordinance. The council seemed to agree not to put too many regulations on e-cigs.
Fourteen people in the audience gave testimony from the podium. They included owners and workers of “’vape’ shops” (“vape” being short for e-cig vapor), two employees of the CentraCare health system, a Sartell mother, a manager of convenience stores in Sartell, several former cigarette smokers and several members of the Independent Vapor Retailers of Minnesota.
Despite differences among those who spoke, the testimony was considerate, courteous and thoughtful toward everyone in the council chamber.
Sartell Police Chief Jim Hughes said his department has been reviewing the city’s tobacco ordinance, which has not been revised since the early 1990s. Minnesota statutes regarding e-cigarettes should be included in the ordinance, as well as any e-cigarette regulations the council might want to add. No action was taken by the council at the Feb. 9 public hearing, although the council agreed on a general consensus about issues raised at the meeting. They will take a vote regarding ordinance suggestions at a future meeting.
The issues raised where these:
- Should the city forbid the use of e-cig flavor samplings if e-cig stores should ever open in Sartell? In most e-cig stores, customers can sample a wide variety of vapor “flavors” before deciding which one they want to buy.
- Should the city require hygienic standards for the smoking tips used on the front of e-cig devices during sampling sessions?
- Should the city require e-cig shop owners and other stores to charge customers at least $2 for each “loosie” they sell. (A “loosie” is a slang term for a cigarette or cigar sold separately from a larger pack they come in.)
- What kind of signage should be allowed for smoke shops?
- Should there be a maximum distance required between stores that sell tobacco products or e-cigs?
E-cigarettes are also known as personal vaporizers or electronic nicotine delivery systems.
They are battery-powered vaporizers that atomize a liquid solution into aerosol form (referred to as vapor). Although there is no tobacco in the liquid, there are nicotine extracts from tobacco plants in some of the liquids. Some are nicotine-free.
When e-cigs were invented some years ago, the idea was smokers addicted to regular cigarettes could use the e-cigs to help them quit smoking.
Although most experts agree e-cigs are far safer than cigarettes, there is currently a controversial debate ongoing as to e-cigs’ overall safety, including disagreements about whether second-hand vapor (like second-hand smoke) can pose health risks to others.
The following paragraphs are paraphrased summaries of testimony from the Feb. 9 Sartell City Council meeting:
Opponents of tightening the tobacco ordinance for e-cigs gave the following opinions:
- The council should gather more input and listen to retailers’ points of view before deciding anything.
- Retailers have always worked with law enforcement and ordinances to ensure minors cannot buy e-cigs, regular cigarettes or other tobacco products. Therefore, why put more restrictions on sales of e-cigs?
- The idea of making retailers charge at least $2 for a “loosie” cigar is not fair. Alcohol and tanning booths can be bad for people too and yet cities don’t tell businesses that offer those products or services what to charge. Customers will go to other stores if a $2 price is mandated, and those who do will no longer buy other items when they come in, partly to get a “loosie.”
- Several people said they smoked cigarettes for many years and e-cigs helped them stop smoking regular cigarettes completely. “My health and my life has improved” because of e-cigs, one woman from St. Cloud said.
- E-cig makers and retailers are accused of marketing ploys supposedly aimed at children because of e-liquids sold with flavor names such as watermelon, cotton candy and bubble gum. One man, who smoked for many years, went to an e-cig shop and decided to try a flavor named watermelon-bubble-gum. That very day he quit smoking regular cigarettes. Many adults, he said, do not want “tobacco”-flavored e-cigs. They want flavors of some of their favorite desserts, such as “cream cheese.” Such names do not mean makers and sellers are pandering to children, he told the council.
- Customers should be allowed to sample e-liquids in e-cig shops because buying an e-cig dispenser and the liquid can be expensive. People want to make sure they like the vapor before they buy the product, one man emphasized.
- Recent controversial accusations that e-vapor contains harmful chemicals is exaggerated or just not true, one man said, noting such contents appear commonly in foods, beverages and other things people consume daily.
- All people who spoke in favor of e-cigs completely agreed tobacco products should be kept away from children, but they all also agreed e-cigs are not harmful and they help people quit smoking regular cigarettes. ”Why limit people from trying something that’s helping them try to get better?” one man asked.
- One study stated more than 30 percent of high school students have tired e-cigs. Names of e-cig fluids like cotton candy, green apple and bubble gum are marketing ploys to get minors hooked on e-cigs, said a Sartell woman, mother of two children. Cities should assure no addictive products, including e-cigs, get sold. Children – and adults – should not have to be exposed to vapors from e-cigs.
- Sampling should not be allowed in e-cig stores, and since there are no such stores in Sartell yet, the city could put that provision in the ordinance without affecting current stores, one woman said. In central Minnesota, a higher percentage of minors (17 percent) have tried e-cigs than elsewhere in Minnesota (14.4 percent). That, the woman said, is because cities in central Minnesota are slower to adopt restrictive ordinances compared to other areas of the state.
- Another woman who works for CentraCare health systems said second-hand vapors from e-cigs are harmful to others. Sampling areas in stores should be prohibited because e-cigs can deliver all kinds of harmful substances, including nicotine. She said the shampoo people use in the morning is more regulated via government agencies than the vapors inhaled by e-cig smokers and people around them. Public health and safety should be the goal, she said.
- A psychiatrist and leader of a smoking-cessation program at the St. Cloud Hospital said he has learned e-cigs are not reliably good aids to quitting smoking regular cigarettes. “Not a lot” of patients have quit because of them, he told the council. He said e-cigs, so far anyway, have not been regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and yet they have been known to contain harmful substances. The e-cigs should be limited every bit as much as tobacco products are.
After nearly an hour of listening to testimony at the public hearing, council members weighed in with their reactions.
Members Steve Hennes and Pat Lynch seemed to agree with opponents of ordinance changes that e-cigs are currently legal and further regulations would likely be an unfair intrusion on businesses.
Hennes said he himself was a smoker for 10 years and remembers how difficult it was to quit until he took a smoking-cessation class. E-cigs, he said, can help people quit or at least cut way back on their regular cigarette smoking.
Amy Braig-Lindstrom said she is inclined to agree with the viewpoints of Lynch and Hennes. David Peterson said the council should further examine the information presented to the council before making a decision about language in the ordinance. Mayor Sarah Jane Nicoll said she tends to agree with comments made by the other council members and there appears to be a consensus for further action on an updated tobacco ordinance. Action will happen at a future council meeting.