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Surprise opposition derails Emanuel’s e-cigarette ban

Electronic cigarettes are off-limits Chicago Transit Authority rail stations other CTA property but smokers can “vape” away CTA bus stops

Electronic cigarettes are off-limits at Chicago Transit Authority rail stations and other CTA property, but smokers can “vape” away at CTA bus stops under an ordinance approved Tuesday. | Sun-Times file

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Updated: January 11, 2014 6:24AM

Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s plan to ban e-cigarettes wherever smoking is prohibited — and snuff out the sale to minors — ran into a dark cloud of opposition Monday, forcing the mayor to settle for the weaker of two ordinances designed to curb teen smoking.

The City Council’s Finance and Health committees agreed to ban the sale of menthol and flavored tobacco products within 500 feet of Chicago schools — five times the existing radius.

But a surprise outpouring of opposition derailed the mayor’s plan to regulate electronic cigarettes as “tobacco products” subject to Chicago’s smoking ban.

That would have moved them behind the counter of retail stores, banned the sale to minors, prohibited adults from smoking e-cigarettes in virtually all of indoor Chicago and empowered the city to license e-cigarette dealers.

Aldermen from across the city questioned whether the vapors from e-cigarettes are any more dangerous to bystanders than a humidifier, a cup of tea or a pot full of boiling water used to cook pasta.

They further argued that the ban would discourage smokers from using e-cigarettes to kick the habit.

“We’re punishing a group of people for trying not to smoke. You can’t have it both ways. You can’t on one day say, ‘We’re going to tax the heck out of cigarettes,’ then the next day [say], ‘For those of you who can’t afford it and decide you want to smoke vapor, we’re going to decide you can’t do that, either,’” said Ald. Leslie Hairston (5th).

She added, “There is no proof that water vapor in the air does anything. If that is the case, humidifiers are gone. And boiling water is gone in restaurants.”

Downtown Ald. Brendan Reilly (42nd) took a puff of an e-cigarette during Monday’s meeting, then acknowledged that he recently purchased e-cigarettes to try to kick the smoking habit.

“Where this kind of crosses the line for me is where we start talking about including the device as if it is a tobacco product. Many smokers are actually using these devices or devices like them as part of their cessation program,” he said.

Ald. “Proco” Joe Moreno (1st) argued that there is “no evidence that nicotine being vaporized is damaging” to other people in the room.

“We’re trying to protect a set of people [who] don’t need protection. I don’t see why we need to protect people from something I can [create] when I make my tea in the morning. I have no problem with my 10-year-old daughter being in the kitchen when that happens,” Moreno said.

Ald. Ray Suarez (31st) pointed to the 50-cents-a-pack increase in Chicago’s cigarette tax tied to Emanuel’s 2014 budget.

“We’re raising peoples’ cost of buying a pack of cigarettes, but they’re trying to quit. They’re going to go to vaping and we’re going to limit that, too. At what point do we stop regulating peoples’ lives and making the excuse of safety when we have no documentation to prove this is even a safety hazard and we have no way of enforcing it?” Suarez said.

Dr. Phillip Gardiner, a University of California expert on nicotine dependence, argued that e-cigarettes not only have the “potential to undo decades of de-normalization of smoking.” They’re a “new source of volatile organic compounds, nicotine and heavy metals” with “27 specific chemicals registered as harmful by the Food and Drug Administration.”

“Is there secondhand vaping? Yes, there’s secondhand vaping. No, it’s not just water vaper. It’s all of these different chemicals. Yes, they’re in lesser concentrations. But they’re pollutants none the same,” Gardiner said.

Last month, Emanuel joined forces with Aldermen Will Burns (4th) and Edward Burke (14th) on a pair of ordinances designed to cut off access to gateway products used to entice teens into smoking.

Like the cigarette tax hike, the ordinances were tailor-made to break, what Health Commissioner Dr. Bechara Choucair has called the “plateau” in the decline of adolescent smoking.

It was Burns who proposed holding off on the e-cigarette ban that had generated the most controversy.

Still, Burns said he remains a “strong supporter” of both ordinances, “given my own family’s history with tobacco use. My father died of a massive coronary at the age of 59 as a consequence of being a lifelong smoker.”


Twitter: @fspielman

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