Electronic cigarette smokers will have to think twice before lighting up in Richmond, as the city council voted Tuesday night to expand its smoking ban to include the battery operated devices.
The city has enacted several policies in recent years to regulate smoking, including an ordinance prohibiting smoking in and around multi-unit residences. But this new ordinance will now treat the electronic cigarettes like traditional ones, said Councilman Tom Butt.
Electronic cigarettes, or e-cigarettes as they are sometimes called, are battery-powered devices that provide doses of nicotine and other additive substances to the user in an aerosol.
“Richmond has been and continues to be a leader statewide in these ordinances,” Butt said. “The whole development of electronic cigarettes has been so recent that it was left out of our original ordinances.”
He added, “This is an opportunity to simply amend those ordinances to recognize this new development.”
The use of electronic cigarettes in smoke-free locations threatens to reverse the progress the city has made in prohibiting smoking in public places and places of employment, the staff report says.
The ordinance will prohibit e-cigarettes in public places excluding private residences, places of employment, unenclosed dining, recreational and service areas along with public events such as a farmers’ market, parade or festival. The law states smokers must be located at least 25 feet from nonsmoking areas.
The council took a cue from the Contra Costa Board of Supervisors which adopted a similar ordinance earlier this year to ban the electronic nicotine devices in places where smoking is prohibited. It also requires retailers selling these products to secure a tobacco retailer license.
“Richmond is not a pioneer in this thing; we are just catching up,” Butt said.
The products are having an impact on teens, as the percentage of U.S. middle and high school students who use e-cigarettes more than doubled from 2011 to 2012, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention.
Clinical studies about the safety of e-cigarettes have not been submitted to the Food and Drug Administration for the more than 400 brands of electronic cigarettes that are on the market. E-cigarettes not marketed for therapeutic purposes are currently not regulated by the FDA. And it has not been determined whether these devices are safe or what types of potentially harmful chemicals the products contain, opponents say.
While some believe these smokeless devices are a safer option than traditional cigarettes, health advocates that spoke at Tuesday’s meeting disagree.
“Studies do show that people who sit next to people who are using these cigarettes, the vapor does get into their body,” said Phillip Gardiner, who conducts electronic cigarette research for the University of California Office of the President.
“E-cigarettes may be safer, but they’re not safe.”
But Richmond resident Jackie Thompson said the council’s concentration should be on tobacco cigarettes, which she says constitute the real problem.
“I see these as more dangerous than e-cigarettes,” she said. “You can try to save the world but you can’t do it. I think there is more you can focus and work on other than the e-cigarettes. What are we going to do to fight the real smoke?”