By JOY BROWN
The Findlay Health Department is hoping government officials “air” on the side of caution by banning electronic cigarettes in indoor public places where smoking has been prohibited.
Findlay would be the first municipality in Ohio to do so.
But not all City Council members are ready to take that step.
Instead, council members will be polled individually about whether they think a committee should be formed to debate the issue further and make a recommendation to the full council.
E-cigarettes are battery-operated devices that do not burn tobacco. Instead, they heat nicotine, propylene glycol and glycerin into a vapor, which is inhaled by the user, according to the Los Angeles Times. The nicotine burned in an e-cigarette may be extracted from a tobacco plant, according to the Food and Drug Administration.
Although the devices have been used as a smoking cessation tool, U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention statistics show youth are increasingly using e-cigarettes.
An informal City Council meeting Tuesday night included a city Health Department presentation about preliminary evidence suggesting that inhaling the vapor from e-cigarettes, referred to as “vaping,” is a health hazard.
Dr. Rick Watson, a Findlay pulmonary specialist, said e-cigarettes are reversing clean air efforts that have been legislated during the past decade. The liquids and oils sold for the devices have been found to contain chemical carcinogens, and some include illegal drugs such as THC, the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana, he said.
“The exhalant from an e-cigarette is just another source of indoor air pollution,” Watson said.
But Watson, city Health Commissioner Dr. Stephen Mills and city compliance officer Tom Davis acknowledged that as of yet, there is no scientific evidence that exhaled vapor from e-cigarettes is detrimental to bystanders’ health.
Results from one study, released within the past few days by the American Association for Cancer Research, showed some evidence that e-cigarette vapor containing large amounts of nicotine can, like tobacco smoke, cause genetic mutations that lead to lung cancer, Watson said. But the evidence is very preliminary and “not a proven fact yet,” he said.
The contention of the three health officials is that there is also no evidence that second-hand vapor does not jeopardize people’s health.
Secondhand tobacco smoke was the primary impetus for Ohio’s statewide indoor smoking ban that took effect in 2007. Before that, Findlay City Council had considered its own indoor smoking ban, but backed down amidst pressure from business owners and residents.
Third Ward Councilman Ron Monday said those concerns remain relevant for this discussion because of the advantage to businesses just outside the city limits, particularly bars and restaurants where patrons are more likely to use e-cigarettes. Those places wouldn’t be subject to a city e-cigarette regulation.
First Ward Councilwoman Holly Frische said she favors Findlay “being the trendsetter” and adding e-cigarettes to its current smoking regulations. “I would like to not take the risk of inhaling second-hand (vapor) since we don’t know what it contains,” she said.
“I appreciate what you’re saying, but I don’t particularly agree,” said Councilwoman-At-Large Anne Spence. “Something being bad for myself is one thing, but it being harmful to someone else is another. I’ve gotten quite a few emails and calls from people. Most … said they don’t feel e-cigarettes are harmful to people who are not using them.”
“So you’re going to allow this vapor to permeate throughout town and wait to find out that it’s harmful” before regulating it? Dr. Mills asked.
“Can we have a point/counterpoint here? Maybe we need to hear their (vapor supporters’) side,” said 5th Ward Councilman John Harrington.
“How much can you trust the tobacco industry to tell the truth?” said Watson, noting that tobacco companies have been buying e-cigarette businesses in recent years. “Ten years ago, they were still testifying that tobacco wasn’t addictive.”
Watson and Mills said e-cigarettes are on the radar of the Ohio Department of Health and some legislators, but getting an amendment to include them in the clean air law could take longer than health officials are willing to wait.
Last week, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration extended its regulatory authority to include e-cigarettes and tobacco products that have become more popular but have avoided oversight. The agency now prohibits those under 18 from buying the devices and products. It also requires producers to register with the agency, provide it with detailed ingredient lists, and disclose manufacturing methods and scientific data.
A decision on whether City Council will be interested in forming a committee to further consider the Health Department’s regulation suggestion will be forthcoming in about a week, Councilman Monday said.
More likely to be approved is city legislation requesting help from state Sen. Cliff Hite, R-Findlay, and state Rep. Robert Sprague, R-Findlay, to get e-cigarettes added to Ohio’s Smoke-Free Work Place Act.
Bruce McKinnis, an e-cigarette user, said after Tuesday’s meeting that he thinks the city will eventually enact a ban, even though he thinks the devices are more helpful than harmful. He said the action would be “based on bad science.”
McKinnis pulled out an e-cigarette that he was carrying in his jacket pocket. “I smoked for 40 years and this is the only thing that enabled me to stop,” he said.
Mills said two truck drivers in his medical practice, who used to be two-pack-a-day smokers, now use e-cigarettes. He said he thinks the devices are causing them less harm than cigarettes, but doesn’t think they’re harmless.
“Until those potential risks are known, we think e-cigarettes merit regulation,” Mills said.