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City Council passes tougher e-cigarette regulations

Alderman Edward M. Burke 14th ward speaks about e-cigarettes City Council meeting Wednesday. | Alex Wroblewski~Sun-Times. 01/15/14

Alderman Edward M. Burke of the 14th ward speaks about e-cigarettes at a City Council meeting on Wednesday. | Alex Wroblewski~Sun-Times. 01/15/14

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Updated: February 17, 2014 8:37AM

The gauntlet of smokers huddled outside Chicago restaurants, bars and buildings is about to get deeper — e-cigarette users will join that ostracized group.

The City Council demanded it Wednesday by banning e-cigarettes wherever smoking is prohibited, moving them behind the counter of retail stores and snuffing out sales to minors.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel got his way — by a vote of 45-to-4 — one month after aldermanic opposition forced him to settle for the weaker of two ordinances designed to curb teen smoking.

Still, the few remaining holdouts fumed.

Ald. Brendan Reilly (42nd) noted that the Food and Drug Administration has yet to “render guidance” on how e-cigarettes should be regulated and he would “like to hear from federal experts before we go and implement another ban.”

Reilly is the son of a doctor who has lost family members to smoking. But he’s also a smoker who is using e-cigarettes to try and kick the deadly habit.

“I wouldn’t wish a nicotine addiction on my worst enemy. But I can tell you tobacco addiction kills people, and I’m looking for any possible product to get away from tobacco,” Reilly said.

“You lose me when you want to treat a product many people are using as an alternative to quit just like the product they want to get away from. This would place vaper users on the curb right next to the folks smoking. That, to me, does not make a lot of sense,” he added.

Ald. Rey Colon (35th) said he bought an e-cigarette on Nov. 2 and hasn’t smoked since.

“I put my four packs of Camels in my humidor and there they sat. For me, it’s worked,” he said.

Colon then took aim at Emanuel, who has framed the fight against e-cigarettes as a good-vs.-evil battle to protect Chicago’s children. That’s the same argument the mayor used to champion speed cameras and school closings.

“I keep thinking of that movie, ‘My Cousin Vinnie’ [where they say], ‘The youths. The youths.’ We keep using children as an excuse to pass any ordinance we want to pass, because who can deny the children? And it bugs me,” Colon said.

After the vote, Emanuel argued from the rostrum that the FDA “leads from behind” and he’s not about to wait for that follower federal bureaucracy to lead when it comes to protecting the health of Chicago’s children.

“In about three weeks, we’re going to issue some regulations on petcoke. There is no federal oversight. Should we wait? We’re going to take a leadership [role] on natural gas going through tankers while other cities are struggling. Should we wait?” the mayor said.

“The children of Chicago should not be figured in the bottom line of the tobacco companies. This is a $2 billion market and growing. We are going to lead where the regulatory agencies have not. If the FDA issues something later, you always reserve the right to go back and look at what you just did.”

The ordinance approved Wednesday would 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.

The ordinance gives retailers six months to move e-cigarettes behind the counter. E-cigarette users will be banished to the great outdoors on April 29.

It’s the latest in a string of mayoral measures to tighten the noose on smokers.

Emanuel’s 2014 budget raised the city’s cigarette tax by 50 cents a pack — to a highest-in-the-nation $7.17 — and snuffed out the sale of menthol and flavored tobacco products also used to lure kids within 500 feet Chicago schools. That’s five times the existing radius.


Twitter: @fspielman

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