CITY HALL — If you read articles written by numerous regional news outlets a few months ago, you might think that City Council already outlawed e-cigarettes.
In fact, the ordinance regulating e-cigarettes in the city by the sea will be considered by council on Tuesday.
The ordinance is fairly simple in that it essentially — with a few exceptions — treats the electronic smoking devices like traditional tobacco cigarettes, which are already heavily regulated in the city. It would also include the vaporizers under the definition of tobacco products for the purpose of City Hall’s tobacco retail license.
The battery-powered e-cigs, which deliver a form of nicotine and can mimic the feel of traditional cigarettes, are being marketed as a healthier, less difficult way to kick the tobacco habit.
Currently “vaping” is allowed anywhere in the city, including inside bars and restaurants.
The ordinance, as proposed, would ban smoking in vaping lounges, with the exception of the two already in existence — Fix Vapor on Main Street and Vapor Delight on Lincoln Boulevard. They’ll be required to have proper ventilation systems so they don’t bother the neighboring businesses.
“This standard is intentionally general since to date, the state Occupational Safety and Health Administration has not adopted standards for ventilation to regulate the spread of second-hand smoke,” city attorneys said in their report. “Council could consider removing the ventilation requirement since there is no similar requirement for tobacco lounges under state law; and since studies show that vapor from electronic smoking devices is less harmful than cigarette smoke.”
Council could keep future vaping lounges away from schools or other places where kids hang out by adding restrictions in the new Zoning Code, which is currently under review by the Planning Commission. This might be hard, city officials said, because many different retail stores sell e-cigs.
One of the primary arguments against the electronic cigarettes is that they contain nicotine and may appeal to children — a combination that might lead kids to smoking traditional tobacco cigarettes.
City officials, using an American Heart Association meta-study that combined the results from 84 peer-reviewed papers, looked at the impacts of e-cigs earlier this year and found the data to be inconclusive.
“There is not conclusive evidence that electronic cigarettes are an effective device for quitting smoking though there are certainly examples,” City Attorney Adam Radinsky told council at the time.
Still, Radinsky continued, there are advantages to the vaporizers.
“There are a lot of unanswered questions about safety,” he said. “The one thing that does seem clear, that all parties can agree on: Electronic cigarettes are safer than cigarettes by a long-shot both for the user and others in the vicinity.”
Residents on both sides of the issue came out to speak at that meeting. Many of those opposed to the restrictions said that e-cigarettes helped them quit smoking tobacco.
The ordinance, if approved, would go into effect 30 days after its adoption.