Janesville City Council to consider banning e-cigarette use on city, school property

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Elliot Hughes
Thursday, June 11, 2015

JANESVILLE--After a string of complaints about e-cigarette use inside Hedberg Public Library and the senior center, the city will consider banning use of the devices in city and school buildings.

The complaints reached the office of the city manager, who is proposing the ordinance.

“The consensus among the staff is that it's probably not the right thing to do in our facilities,” City Manager Mark Freitag said.

The ordinance would prohibit use of e-cigarettes in city or school district buildings, including within 25 feet of their entrances, as well as on city buses, bus shelters, pools and splash pads. It also would ban tobacco smoking within 25 feet of city buildings. Violation would result in a $100-$250 fine.

E-cigarettes are not yet regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, and there is no clear consensus on what impact they can have on a person's health.

They fall outside of smoking bans because the battery-powered devices involve vaporized “e-liquid” rather than burned tobacco. That leaves it up to states and local governments to regulate them as they see fit.

Freitag framed the proposal as solution to a “social issue” rather than a health-related one. He said the odor from e-cigarettes can bother people and the sight of someone “vaping,” as it is often called, can cause confusion because it looks similar to someone smoking.

The Janesville School District already approved a ban of e-cigarettes on school grounds last year, but the school district doesn't have authority to impose fines for violations.

Other cities, such as Madison, Chicago, New York and Los Angeles, have gone beyond what Freitag is proposing and banned e-cigarette use in any indoor public place or wherever smoking is already forbidden.

Freitag said his office doesn't want to take it that far.

"We recognized that it potentially could be an issue of we're overstepping our bounds, considering the health issues are not yet determined," he said.

Although organizations such as the American Lung Association acknowledge that the secondhand effects of vaporizing are unknown, many still advocate for caution. The association notes that formaldehyde, benzene and other carcinogens have been detected in secondhand emissions from e-cigarettes.

The liquid in an e-cigarette generally contains several ingredients, including propylene glycol, vegetable glycerin, flavorings, distilled water and optional nicotine.

The American Cancer Society also advocates that vaporizing should be banned from restaurants, offices and other public places to limit exposure to “potentially harmful chemicals.”

The proposal has support from at least two council members. Richard Gruber, who is also a vice president of Mercy Health Systems, said it's “probably an appropriate ordinance,” but that he's still interested in gathering more information before making a determination.

Councilman Sam Liebert said he planned to ask the council if it would extend a ban to other public spaces such as bars and restaurants.

“I think if a group like that (the American Cancer Society) is saying that secondhand effects of some of these vaping and e-cigarettes are potentially harmful or are harmful, I think that's something people should listen to," Liebert said. He, too, pointed out a social aspect of the issue, saying the smells can “assault your senses.”

Ben Bawavir, an employee at Smokers World in Janesville, which sells e-cigarettes, said the proposal sounds sensible. He said he doesn't think proposals of this kind have much of an impact on the vaporizing industry and that it's important to limit their exposure to youths.

“Schools are completely understandable,” he said. “They should be nicotine-free, tobacco-free.”

The city council meets Monday, June 22.

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