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Stalled e-cigarette ban would protect kids, Emanuel says

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Updated: December 11, 2013 12:29AM

Mayor Rahm Emanuel on Tuesday tried to salvage his plan to ban e-cigarettes wherever smoking is prohibited and snuff out sales to minors by framing it as a battle to protect Chicago’s children.

One day after his crackdown on electronic cigarettes went up in smoke — at least temporarily — amid a surprise outpouring of aldermanic opposition, Emanuel portrayed the battle as good vs. evil.

Wearing the black hats, according to the mayor, are Big Tobacco, its high-powered lobbyists and the aldermen who are falling prey to their arguments that e-cigarettes are not dangerous and merely a tool that adults use to quit smoking.

Emanuel portrayed himself and Health Commissioner Dr. Bechara Choucair — whom he called “my Poncho to this Don Quixote” effort — as the good guys wearing the white hats. According to the mayor, they’re trying desperately to cut off access to gateway products like e-cigarettes, menthol and flavored tobacco products used to lure children into a lifetime addiction to smoking.

“A lot of people thought we were nuts to do this — that this should be left to the FDA and let them handle this. [But] I want a message to be heard by Big Tobacco: This is a city of big shoulders and you’re not welcome. Our kids are not for you,” the mayor said.

“I’m not gonna mince words. They get ’em hooked. And then they become smokers. And the flavors and the menthol start ’em on a path. And then they don’t control their own destiny. They’re in the hands of the Big Tobacco companies. They become their consumers. And we pick up all of the public health costs.”

After accepting the “Visionary Elected Leader Award” from the African-American Tobacco Leadership Council, Emanuel lashed out at those who stalled his plan to treat e-cigarettes as tobacco products and keep them off-limits to kids.

“What’s happening in this building right now — I saw it when President Clinton did it and when President Obama signed the law and we had to fight the Big Tobacco companies. They’re going to start hiring all the lobbyists. Right downstairs. They’re going to start coming in and out of this building. Well, I want to know who’s going to be the lobbyist for children. Because right now, it’s me and Dr. Choucair,” the mayor said.

“This vote is about who’s going to stand up for kids. Who’s not going to be lured by the money. . . . If you think e-cigarettes are part of quitting as an adult, OK. But we’re talking about: Don’t let kids get started on e-cigarettes. . . .We’re talking about our children here. Keep your hands off of them.”

The mayor’s decision to frame the debate as a fight for kids is not surprising. He did the same thing during the teachers strike and during debate over school closings and speed cameras.

Emanuel’s plan to ban e-cigarettes wherever smoking is prohibited — and block sales to minors — went up in smoke 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 Chicago schools — five times the existing radius.

But a surprise outpouring of opposition derailed the mayor’s plan to regulate e-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.


Twitter: @fspielman

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