Electronic cigarette smokers are a step closer to having to stand next to regular cigarette smokers outside Chicago restaurants, bars and other buildings.
City Council members on Monday advanced a plan backed by Mayor Rahm Emanuel to treat so-called e-cigarettes like most other tobacco products under the Clean Indoor Air Act. That means the products wouldn’t be allowed inside public places.
Aldermen complained about an earlier version of the ordinance that would have only prohibited people from smoking e-cigarettes loaded with nicotine cartridges in public places, arguing it would be nearly impossible for business owners to tell whether a patron had nicotine in an e-cigarette. The version the full council will take up Wednesday makes no distinction between e-cigarettes loaded with products that contain nicotine and those without.
Several aldermen continued to express concerns about the indoor ban Monday, arguing there is no clear scientific consensus that the vapor emitted from electronic cigarettes is dangerous like smoke from tobacco products.
“It is a ban, because you’re making people go outside, you’re treating it just as you would an analogue cigarette or tobacco cigarette,” said Ald. Rey Colon, 35th. “You’re lumping it together in the same category even though you don’t really have any proof that it has any harm. You’re saying ‘We’re going to regulate first and ask questions later.’ ”
But with several Emanuel administration officials looking on and the mayor’s lobbyists pulling aside aldermen for private chats before the vote, the measure passed 15-5.
The ordinance also requires that e-cigarettes be sold behind the counter. Dr. Bechara Choucair, commissioner of the Chicago Department of Public Health, said that’s meant to make it harder for minors to take up electronic cigarettes. The cartridges that can be loaded into the e-cigarettes can be bought in candy-like flavors that critics say are enjoyable for kids who then get hooked on conventional smokes.
The General Assembly passed a measure last year that sets a statewide ban on the sale of e-cigarettes to minors and requires retailers to check the age of anyone trying to buy an e-cigarette who appears to be younger than 27.
Ald. Brendan Reilly, 42nd, suggested the City Council adopt the part of the city e-cigarettes ordinance that regulates sales while putting off a vote on the portion dealing with indoor smoking in public places until more scientific consensus has been reached on the health impact.
“I’m certainly not here to defend Big Tobacco. They’re done enough harm in this country,” said Reilly, who smokes. “But I do have friends and family members who are using (e-cigarettes) to quit, to get away from combustible tobacco that kills people.”
But the measure seemed destined to pass when Emanuel threw strong public support behind the e-cigarette regulations in recent weeks, saying they go along with recently adopted restrictions on selling menthol cigarettes near Chicago schools in protecting the city’s children from early addiction.