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Lights out: Duluth pulling plug on e-cigarettes

By   /   September 11, 2013  /   17 Comments

Tom Steward Watchdog | Minnesota Bureau

E-Cigarette Advocate Conley: A great incentive for an e-cigarette vendor to set up shop outside of Duluth.

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 tom@watchdogminnesota.org

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Tom Steward covers government waste, spending and policy issues in his home state of Minnesota. Also a documentary filmmaker and in-depth broadcast journalist, Tom's work has appeared on NPR, Animal Planet, WCCO-TV, WGBH-TV, PBS, Australian Broadcasting Corporation, KSTP-TV, CBC, among other outlets. Highlights include the fall of the Berlin Wall, a Peabody Award, the first footage in the wild of the endangered Sumatran tiger and rhino and countless individuals who shared their stories, big and small. Steward served as a communications strategist in the U.S. Senate before returning to reporting on issues and people often overlooked by other media.

  • John Burks

    Typical politicians…don’t agree with parts of the bill, but vote for the thing anyway. Duluth has lost my tourism dollars!

  • DC_TX

    Problem here is willful ignorance and stubborness. Jennifer Julsrud makes a nonsensical argument: protect children from what? E-cigs release wator vapor and that’s it. On that logic, humidifiers should be banned. And clean air? eCigs don’t pollute the air. The car she drove to the council meeting caused more pollution in her 20 min drive than all the ecigarette smokers in Duluth for the next 10 years.
    The real, unstated, reason I suspect is that she simply doesn’t like the way it looks, and thinks it is somehow moral to impose her uptight preferences on others, while being totally unaffected by ecigs. And that folks, is immoral.
    And Jim Stauber is hilariously foolish – he says he doesn’t like government intrusion, but is willing to throw the that core principles away over … ecigs? No, it’s just politically convenient and he’s a coward.
    Props to Jay Fosle – the only one on the council with courage and a brain, apparently.

  • Rachel Benoit

    I didn’t realize it was acceptable to make regulations based on personal judgements and the way things look rather than actual facts. I would be embarassed if she was representing my city. Ignorance is clearly a disease within the Duluth city council.

  • Paul Allen

    “Still, they tend to be viewed as much safer than tobacco, even though a definitive study doesn’t yet exist.”

    Would someone please define a definitive study so we can have one and end this no information nonsense?

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Sue-Terry/1228328167 Sue Terry

    never ever going to duluth again

  • mnberty1

    Being proactive in presenting the most recent scientific data is always a good thing, but in my view it would not have made a difference in Duluth. If we have elected representatives that are willing to ban personal behavior choices simply because they don’t like the way it looks, and the example it sets for kids, there is no scientific harm evidence that even matters. Council member Krug is a shining example of this, conceding in her statements at the council meeting that there is no proof of harm to users or bystanders, but it looks like smoking from a distance and we want to protect the kids.

  • MattyBoy

    There are infinitely more studies published that find no substantial health risks from ecig vapor than there are saying it’s dangerous. Studies from very reputable organizations, I might add. There are NO studies that definitively state that there are any health risks, just the ones that say they don’t know. I tell you what. How about we let the people run with it until we DO know, instead of banning something out of unfounded fear? Go ahead and ban them indoors, I don’t care. I’ve been smoking outside for decades, so it’s no skin off my nose. To dictate where I can sample and purchase my juice, though, is simply wrong. I can honestly say that my life has improved dramatically in the year since I quit smoking, and you’ll hear the same thing from thousands of others, yet I have yet to hear of anyone who has been negatively affected from vaping, even from the media, who all seem to want to crucify it. Doesn’t that tell anyone anything? If the media hasn’t hunted down and built a sob story around even one person negatively affected by vaping in the least, that person probably just plain doesn’t exist. If that person was out there, the media would have found him a long time ago and made him the poster child for this whole smear campaign. They haven’t found him. He doesn’t exist. It’s that simple.

  • http://www.facebook.com/bsubassbone Alex Carlson

    The Drexel University study, if you listen to the council meeting one of them states “Which we’ve heard about over and over the past two weeks” covers 9000 studies of e-cigs. I’d say it’s pretty difinitive. 0 Health hazards to bystanders and possibly 1/100th the health hazard to the direct user.

  • Jon Jensen

    I remember back in the sixties when a certain demographic group of the population tried to ban rock-n-roll music stating that it’s influences would drive kids crazy and turn them into potheads……they didn’t understand it and it scared them…..it’s gunna be a long fight fellow vapors…..but when the science has been proven out by the FDA (and there is no reason to believe it won’t)…and the government and big tobacco and pharmaceutical companies have figured out how to get their piece of the money pie, these ridiculous rules will go away…..in the end it will cost more to vape…..and many tobacco users will develope terminal illnesses and perish……but the ignorant will sleep better.

  • Scott Erdmann

    How about we educate instead of discriminate. This was a vote for the public of Duluth was it not? How about educating Duluth on the matter and then hearing their thoughts on the issue before voting on something for them because of your own personal thoughts and ideas. Seems to me as a resident of a community this is the way I would prefer it done, I mean really the thoughts of 3 people ( if I am not mistaken) in regards to what is best for an entire community just doesn’t seem right. Just a citizen with a thought and an opinion for all, not myself..

  • Fue Xiong

    Actually it was a vote for the city council, not a public vote. And though several of us in MN had contacted them providing our back stories and links to many studies proving that there were no side effects to bystanders and the many other studies currently and readily available, it’s also been confirmed that she has received campaign funding from the American Lung Association. On top of that, a recently published new article went to mention that the city council received a total of 40 some phone calls and emails in support of the ordinance, but failed to mention the several hundred emails and phone calls that were made in opposition to the ordinance.

  • Greg

    See, now I disagree with that one statement… “Go ahead and ban them indoors, I don’t care.” I do. Because, as someone who has been smoke free for 8 months thanks to my e-cig, I don’t *want* to be outside with the rest of the smokers, and getting their second hand smoke. Hello? That’s why I quit…
    So, I try to better myself and the environment and I get punished…

  • Ronny Lammatee

    By their standards anyone who farts has violated the law. They expel methane, a deadly gas, and foul the air with the smell others find offensive.

  • Cassidy

    Well said.

  • Cassidy

    Stupid!!! Stupid!!! Stupid!!! Stupid!!!

  • Carol Wood

    Ah, Duluth. The city of Minnesota’s only racial lynching. Still ignorant and backward.

  • Reno

    Then Krug, in the interest of “protecting kids” should ban something proven to be harmful… rap music.

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