Tom Steward Watchdog | Minnesota Bureau
DULUTH — If it looks like a cigarette, puffs like a cigarette and fits in your hand like a cigarette, the city of Duluth says it should be banned like a cigarette.
Put it out, officials say.
Or, well, turn it off.
Electronic cigarette smokers in the northern Minnesota metropolis will face the same tough restrictions as conventional cigarette smokers, and a series of ordinances on the e-cigs has led residents on both sides to target the Duluth City Council with phone calls and emails.
“I wrote these ordinances and I pushed for them because I want to protect kids and I believe in supporting clean air,” Jennifer Julsrud of the Duluth City Council said during a debate over the issue.
Electronic cigarettes substitute tobacco in cigarettes with a heating element that vaporizes liquid. Some e-cigarettes are flavored while others may contain nicotine. Still, they tend to be viewed as much safer than tobacco, even though a definitive study doesn’t yet exist.
Duluth joins a relatively small but steadily growing list of local governments keeping electronic cigarettes out of no-smoking zones and from stores that ban tobacco smokes. Three new ordinances prohibit sampling smokes in stores, forbid people from using them in public places covered under the Minnesota Clean Indoor Air Act — such as restaurants and bars — and require stores to obtain a license to sell the e-smokes only to people 18 or older. Hookah bars are also banned, even though the city has none.
The ban is effective Oct. 10.
The smoking showdown has attracted national attention. A business owner invited a representative from the group Consumer Advocates for Smoke-Free Alternatives Association to make the case that e-cigs help some smokers quit tobacco.
“The argument for not banning the use of electronic cigarettes is that there’s no evidence that it is a hazard to others,” said Gregory Conley, legislative director for CASAA. “Indeed, there’s a volume of evidence showing that the levels of chemicals released in e-cigarette vapor are nontoxic under various toxicological standards.”
The debate carried over into a marathon council meeting Monday. One city council member, rankled by the proceedings, reluctantly voted for two of the ordinances. “We spent about half an hour on the levy and the budget, if that,” said Sharla Gardner, Duluth city council member. “We spent over two hours on this e-cigarette ban and ordinances.”
“In my opinion, nothing good can come of this behavior,” said Mike McAvoy, vice president of operations at Essentia Health, a health-care consortium. “At the very least, it can lead to a personal habit that affects no one. At the very worst, it can lead to a lifetime of nicotine addiction.”
One resident took the councilors to task for wanting to control a product that produces little or no smell or smoke.
“If you regulate e-cigarettes, you should regulate perfume, if you do it on these grounds,” said William Rees of Duluth. “The advocates and supporters of these ordinances should be ashamed of themselves.”
Just one city council member voted against all three ordinances, arguing that Duluth should be concentrating on illegal substances rather than cracking down on legitimate businesses.
“What we should really be concerned about is the use of heroin and Ecstasy,” said Jay Fosle, Duluth City Council member. “We’re going against businesses that would bring more money onto our tax rolls.”
While several council members shared their misgivings over various aspects of the ordinances, all three passed easily.
“I generally don’t like government intruding on people’s lives, but I think this is the right thing to do,” said Jim Stauber, a council member.
A national free-market think tank that monitors the issue called limits on e-cigs counterproductive.
“Unfortunately, and in a move that sounds sensible, but flies in the face of the best available scientific evidence, the Duluth City Council voted to ban use of e-cigarettes in areas where smoking is banned,” said Dr. Joel Nitzkin, former Louisiana public health director in and senior fellow with R Street. “The science is clear: exhaled e-cigarette vapor poses no risk to bystanders that would justify such a ban.”
Contact Tom Steward at [email protected]