Duluth City Council to take up e-cigarette debateThe fate of electronic cigarettes and hookah bars in Duluth could be decided tonight when city councilors take up ordinances that would bring new restrictions to the local scene.
By: Peter Passi, Duluth News Tribune
The fate of electronic cigarettes and hookah bars in Duluth could be decided tonight when city councilors take up ordinances that would bring new restrictions to the local scene.
If the ordinances pass, people who use the increasingly popular, battery-powered e-cigarettes would be subject to the same regulations as conventional smokers, and hookah bars would be entirely banned within the city.
The council has been lobbied hard both by supporters of the proposed tougher rules and opponents who view the ordinances as an unnecessary intrusion of government into their personal lives.
“I just want to protect kids and be thoughtful and proactive in regulating these products,” City Councilor Jennifer Julsrud said.
She said she has been surprised by the level of debate the ordinances have stirred.
“It’s interesting to have so many people responding from all around the country,” Julsrud said.
On Thursday, the council heard from a proponent of e-cigarettes who came all the way from New Jersey to share his thoughts with the Duluth City Council.
“Because all existing evidence demonstrates that electronic cigarettes expose users to about one-one-hundredth the risks of smoking, that there is no harm to bystanders, and because e-cigarettes are helping numerous Americans quit smoking, I’m here today to encourage you to either reject or substantially reject these ordinances,” said Gregory Conley, legislative director for Consumer Advocates for Smoke-Free Alternatives Association.
“If enacted, these ordinances, as written, would not only not benefit public health but would have the perverse consequence of actually protecting cigarette markets,” he warned.
But the council also has heard from others in the medical community who have expressed misgivings about the use of electronic, smokeless cigarettes, which allow users to inhale a vaporized, nicotine-laced solution.
“While e-cigarette advocates claim these devices have a positive impact by reducing exposure and helping people quit, the evidence supporting these claims is sparse. The truth is the medical community does not have a full understanding of how e-cigarettes impact the health of users and those exposed to the vapors,” said Dr. Edward Ehlinger, commissioner of the Minnesota Department of Health.
One of the proposed ordinances also would make it illegal for shops in Duluth to allow customers to sample smoking products on premises, effectively prohibiting the arrival of any hookah bars in the city. These are establishments where patrons socialize while smoking from communal water pipes.
Brian Annis said the sampling restrictions would ruin his plans to open a Duluth shop specializing in the sale of e-cigarettes, forcing him to consider a neighboring city instead, such as Hermantown.
He explained that shops such as the one he hopes to open instruct customers on how to use different models of e-cigarettes and assist them in finding the vapor solution that best suits their tastes.
“Sampling allows people to choose the right product for their needs,” Annis said.
Annis said he can respect the city’s right to regulate smoking in public buildings and parks, but he questioned the appropriateness of imposing such restrictions on a private business. He asked that the council consider reworking the ordinance so businesses such as his could operate in Duluth.
But neither Julsrud nor the two other city councilors who co-sponsored the ordinances —Patrick Boyle and Linda Krug — say they’re willing to consider such an amendment.
“I’m not wavering. I think we should close this loophole,” Krug said.
“I’m very much in favor of regulating e-cigarettes in the same manner as other tobacco products,” she said.
Boyle, too, said he would oppose any efforts to water down the proposed ordinance.
“These products are so new that the FDA (U.S. Food and Drug Administration) doesn’t have its hands wrapped around them yet,” he said, explaining his desire to proceed with caution.
“There are bound to be secondhand issues with the vapor from e-cigarettes,” Boyle said. “They’re a little healthier than smoking tobacco, but they could still be dangerous.”
Councilor Jay Fosle said he has no problem restricting the use of e-cigarettes in public places but questioned the need to clamp down on a retailer allowing adult customers to try the devices and sample different vapor solutions.
“What business does a nonsmoker have being in a smoke shop anyhow?” Fosle asked.
He said the ordinance would only push prospective businesses such as Annis’ to neighboring jurisdictions, and the city will lose out on sales taxes.
At least two other city councilors —Sharla Gardner and Jim Stauber — say they still aren’t sure how they will come down on the issue, which is sure to inspire lively debate tonight.
Even if all three ordinances are passed, Krug said the consequences for e-cigarette users will be relatively minimal.
“We are not banning e-cigarettes,” she said. “These products will still be available for people who want to use them. They will remain very accessible, just as regular cigarettes have.”