Tempe became the first Arizona city to restrict the use of electronic cigarettes in indoor public places after a recent city council meeting.
The council voted 5-1 on July 31 to place electronic cigarettes under the same restrictions as a previously adopted smoking ordinance, which restricts smoking indoors at places like bars, places of employment, schools and doctors’ offices.
Councilman Joel Navarro, who supported the proposal, said residents, businesses and the American Lung Association had brought the issue to the council’s attention.
“There is nothing 100 percent to say there isn’t any harm (to others exposed to the vapors),” Navarro said. “With that being said, I felt that it was probably in the city’s best interest to keep it in the same consideration as smoking.”
The issue of electronic cigarettes was originally brought before the council in February and again in May after a workgroup looked at research and possible ways of regulating e-cigarette use.
While the lack of information and research regarding electronic cigarettes and the chemicals released in the process was a large concern for the council, Navarro said this decision is not meant to be permanent. If new research proving e-cigarettes are not harmful for bystanders comes out, the council is willing to reconsider the ordinance.
Councilman Kolby Granville was the only councilperson to oppose the new restrictions, One reason he gave was that e-cigarettes have become a way for people to quit smoking, but making them use the products where others are smoking might hinder their progress.
“That is the equivalent of telling someone we don’t mind you having (Alcoholics Anonymous) meetings, but you have to have them in a bar that serves free alcohol,” Granville said.
Many people who use e-cigarettes or business owners who sell these products were at the meeting to express their opposition to the council’s proposal.
Caleb Willow, who works at Tempe e-cigarette shop Butt Out, said he felt like the decision was fear-based and made without the proper facts available.
“It’s absolutely unnecessary to lump us in with tobacco because there is no tobacco,” he said. “It’s the nicotine we are addicted to and that’s what’s in (e-liquid) — flavored nicotine.”
E-cigarettes use batteries to heat a liquid composed of nicotine, flavoring, propylene glycol and vegetable glycerine and turns it into vapor. People can choose how much nicotine they want in their e-cigarette, and Willow said Tempe customers often buy little to no nicotine liquid.
“It’s more likely you’re going to get more chemicals in your body by standing outside waiting for the bus than by being around someone who vapes,” he said.
Christian Stumpf, regional director of public policy for American Lung Association of the Southwest, said the American Lung Association supported Tempe City Council’s proposal because of uncertainty surrounding electronic cigarettes.
“There are some that say (electronic cigarettes) are safer than regular combustible products, but safer isn’t safe,” Stumpf said. “There is still a gray area we don’t know about.”
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State Press reporter Joey Hancock contributed reporting.