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City panel agrees to ban e-cigarettes where smoking is prohibited

Mayor Rahm Emanuel

Mayor Rahm Emanuel

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Updated: February 15, 2014 6:23AM

Chicago would ban e-cigarettes wherever smoking is prohibited, move them behind the counter and snuff out sales to minors, under a mayoral plan advanced Monday despite persistent aldermanic opposition.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel got his way one month after a surprise City Council uprising forced him to settle for the weaker of two ordinances designed to curb teen smoking.

Since then, the mayor has turned up the heat on recalcitrant aldermen.

He has framed it as a good vs. evil battle pitting Big Tobacco and its big money lobbyists against public health advocates determined to prevent young people from using electronic cigarettes as the gateway to a lifetime addiction.

On Monday, the lobbying campaign paid off.

After a heated debate that dragged on for hours and included pleas from self-described “vapers,” the City Council’s Health and Finance Committees voted 15-to-5 to regulate e-cigarettes as “tobacco products” subject to Chicago’s smoking ban.

That will move them behind the counter of retail stores, ban the sale to minors, prohibit adults from smoking e-cigarettes in virtually all of indoor Chicago — and within 15 feet of building entrances — and empower the city to license e-cigarette dealers.

“E-cigarettes provide a pathway to nicotine addiction. They normalize smoking. They make it seem okay to smoke,” said Ald. Will Burns (4th), co-sponsor of the ordinance.

“E-cigarettes should be treated like tobacco cigarettes. They have no place in our restaurants. They have no place in our offices. If people want to enjoy them, they can do that in the privacy of their own homes. They can do it on the public way. There’s no prohibition against that. We’re not banning it.”

Last month, 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.

On Monday, those same concerns were raised again.

“You’re making people go outside. You’re treating it just as you would a tobacco cigarette. Even though you don’t really have any proof that it has any harm, you’re saying, ‘We’re gonna regulate first and ask questions later,’” said Ald. Rey Colon (35th).

“The campaign is [more] against normalization of the appearance of mimicking smoking inside than it is [about] the health benefits. If we could prove that there is no health risk, you would still be here before us saying that normalization of smoking indoors is bad enough. We don’t want the look of smoking inside. We don’t even want you to pretend to smoke.”

Downtown Ald. Brendan Reilly (42nd) said he is all for putting e-cigarettes behind the counter so minors can’t buy them.

“Where you lose me, frankly, is on the debate over the indoor use of this product. I don’t know if there’s an adverse health impact from second-hand use. Frankly, no one has proven that yet,” including the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, Reilly said.

“If the FDA tells this body, `These are dangerous,’ we should absolutely take a look at all sorts of ways to make these hard to get. But, we don’t have that information now.”

Ald. Leslie Hairston (5th) added, “There might be some carcinogens in meat or some of the vegetables. We’ve got open kitchens in restaurants and all of those vapors. There may be some carcinogens in them. Are we going to prohibit restaurants from cooking food? That is the point of contention. It has nothing to do with 18-year-olds.”

Chicago Health Commissioner Dr. Bechara Choucair acknowledged that the “body of evidence” against e-cigarettes is “not as robust as any of us would like it to be” and it will be “many more years before” a concensus is reached.

“My question for you is, who do you trust to provide you and your constituents with important health information? Do you side with the most trusted names in health and medicine…or do you trust Big Tobacco companies that deliberately lied about the safety of light, low-tar, slim and natural tobacco products?” Choucair said.


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