Editor’s Note (Sept. 6): This blog was posted before the agenda for the Sept. 11 city council meeting was finalized. The council will now consider an ordinance amendment that prohibits the sale of e-cigarettes to minors and the possession of the devices by minors, but does not restrict where e-cigarettes may be used in public. The original amended ordinance would have prohibited e-cigarettes where tobacco products are already banned. Staff will continue to research provisions related to public use for future consideration.
By Blanche Brick, Place 1 City Councilmember
On the same day the College Station City Council discussed adding e-cigarettes and vapor devices to the present ban on smoking in designated public spaces, the World Health Organization released this statement:
World Health Organization Press Release (Aug. 26)
(Newser) – More support for those who think it’s too early to jump on the e-cigarette bandwagon: The vapor-producing devices may still pose a threat to users’ and bystanders’ health, says WHO, which suggests stronger regulations on the relatively new industry in a report released today, reports Reuters. The health organization also asks for a ban on puffing away on the battery-driven units indoors, as well as on advertising and flavored e-cigs that could lure underage users. Although e-cigs “are likely less toxic than conventional ones,” writes Stephanie Nebehay at Reuters, WHO researchers say that nicotine and other chemicals emitted by e-cigs are still a health hazard, especially for teens and pregnant women. Those chemicals can include formaldehyde, aluminum, and silicate particles, reports the Telegraph.
The WHO report is lobbying against e-cig vending machines and says manufacturers shouldn’t be able to tout their products as “smoking cessation aids” until more research is completed to back that claim up. The main debate right now seems to be between those who think that e-cigs can help cut down on tobacco-related deaths and those who argue that using e-cigs could lead to the real thing for youngsters—especially with flavors such as bacon, bubble gum, and even Thin Mint. “Many public health experts are concerned that the advertising of electronic cigarettes could make it seem normal again to think smoking is glamorous,” a health official tells the Telegraph. (The FDA proposes a ban on sales to minors, but hasn’t moved against flavors.)
The city council agreed that there should be a ban on the sale of these devices to minors but could not agree on adding these products to the existing no smoking ordinance, which bans the use of tobacco products in designated public places. The council deferred a decision on the proposed amendment until a future council meeting.
All agree that more research should be done to determine the effect of using these products.
And all agree that minors should not be able to purchase these products.
The lack of agreement seems to be on whether people have a constitutional right to use these products whenever and wherever they choose. The proposal to add these products to the current no smoking ordinance — which applies only to designated public spaces — would in no way limit an adult’s ability to purchase or use the products in other areas.
The proposal would simply protect the rights of those who choose not to breathe or smell these products in designated public spaces.
The concept of individual rights is basic to our experience as a democratic republic. The history of the fight to protect these rights is celebrated, as it should be, by those who value and support the first 10 amendments to the Constitution and founding fathers such as Thomas Jefferson and James Madison, who argued for these to be adopted to protect individual rights. The discussion, however, of the exact meaning for those who wrote these 10 amendments continues today.
We seek to honor the meaning and intent of the Bill of Rights, and those who created the 10 amendments, and apply them to the continuing challenges we face of protecting individual rights in a democratic society.
What does the proposed amendment do?
It is important to point out exactly what this proposal to include e-cigarettes and vapor devices would and would not mean if it were added to the current no smoking ordinance:
- It would limit the use of e-cigarettes and vapor devices in designated places now covered in the no smoking ordinance, such as restaurants and movie theaters.
- It would not seek to ban the sale or use of these products in specifically designated places now covered in the city’s no smoking ordinance.
More than 30 Texas cities have adopted ordinances and six states have also moved to put such legislation in place. The World Health Organization, the American Cancer Society and the American Heart Association have called for such policies to protect the health and welfare of citizens who have or could be affected adversely by exposure to these products.
Educational institutions such as Blinn College, Texas A&M University, the Bryan and College Station Independent School districts have already adopted their own policies to limit the use of e-cigarettes and vapor devices. The proposal before the city council would have no effect on these institutional policies other than to offer overall citywide support for policies that limit the use of these products in designated public spaces.
Everyone’s rights should be considered
There are those who feel that government regulation is an evil to be avoided at all costs. Obviously, they oppose this attempt to protect the rights of those who wish not to have their space invaded by smoke or vapors.
There are others who feel that government regulation, while legitimate, frequently does more harm than good and should be severely limited. There are still others who feel that government regulation, when carefully discussed and reasonably applied, is a better alternative than asking each individual to take on the battle of protecting the air they breathe. All these views have a legitimate place in any public debate of proposed government regulation.
It is important, however, not to allow the debate to distort the real issue, which is that ordinances relating to designated public spaces must consider the rights of all. Arguments have been made that those who have breathing difficulties are affected by the vapors of these products. Anything that significantly changes the air one breathes must be considered in the light of the best protection for all involved, not merely the desires of specific individuals.
Some individuals would enjoy their meals in a restaurant more if they were allowed to play loud music of their particular choosing, but most agree that one’s right to do as one wishes in public places has its limits.
This is why I plan to support the proposed ordinance amendment to add e-cigarettes and vapor devices to the existing ordinance that limits smoking in designated public areas. It is a reasonable way to offer a minimum amount of regulation for the greater good of all.
E-cigarette Photo Copyright: scyther5 / 123RF Stock Photo