Duluth Treats Water Vapor-Emitting E-Cigarettes Like Regular Smokes

Published September 10, 2013

City officials in Duluth, Minn., have extended the city’s cigarette regulations to include the increasingly popular electronic cigarettes (also known as e-cigarettes), which produce water vapor instead of tobacco smoke.

A series of ordinances approved by the City Council on Monday strictly prohibits smoking e-cigarettes in commercial establishments and public spaces. The ordinances also ban hookah bars from operating in the city. Duluth, a city of 86,000 people on the western shore of Lake Superior, is the fourth-largest city in Minnesota.

Councilor Jennifer Julsrud introduced the ordinances. The Associated Press quoted her saying, “I wrote these ordinances and I pushed for them because I want to protect kids, and I believe in supporting clean air.”

Opponents of the ordinances, though, noted it’s already against the law for stores to sell e-cigarettes to minors.

Electronic cigarettes were first marketed in the early 2000s, and currently generate $1.7 billion per year in sales. The product is a plastic tube with a small battery in it that can heat a liquid that includes nicotine. The heat vaporizes the liquid and allows the user to have the sensation of smoking without the need for tobacco smoke. Even though e-cigarettes have no tobacco, the Food and Drug Administration considers them to be a “tobacco product” and therefore subject to the same level of regulation as chewing tobacco.

Nicotine With Lower Risks

Proponents say e-cigarettes provide a level of nicotine satisfaction comparable to regular cigarettes but with much lower health risks to users and others who may breathe the vapor. For this reason, e-cigarettes are becoming a popular means of quitting regular cigarettes or at least reducing the harmful effects of smoking.

Opponents counter that e-cigarettes have not been around long enough to know their long-term health effects and may act as a gateway product to heavier tobacco use.

Many e-cigarette advocates don’t think their value can be underestimated.

Important Alternative

“E-cigarettes are one of the most significant public health technologies of the past 50 years,” said Greg Conley, legislative director for the Consumer Advocates for Smoke-free Alternatives Association.

Dr. Brad Rodu, a senior fellow at The Heartland Institute (which publishes Budget & Tax News), calls e-cigarettes a “game changer” in the tobacco market.

“Tobacco prohibitionists will group them with combustibles despite [their] being less hazardous. To remove the option of e-cigarettes would be a disaster for smokers seeking a healthier alternative,” Rodu said.

Jeff Stier, a senior fellow at the National Center for Public Policy Research, argues such regulation is actually reckless: “We already know the long-term effects of cigarettes. All the evidence shows that e-cigarettes are far less harmful, so why should we reduce [cigarette consumers’] ability to make less-bad choices?”

In response to claims that rhe safety and flavor options of e-cigarettes make them a gateway to regular cigarettes, Stier said, “There is absolutely no evidence that e-cigarettes encourage regular cigarette users to ‘graduate upwards.’ The move is usually downward from regular to e-cigarettes.”