Regulate Baltimore's e-cigarettes

E-cigarette bill on tap to limit vaping.

The Baltimore City Health Department's mission is to help all city residents realize their full health potential. If passed, Bill 14-0371 (Electronic Smoking Devices), which was recently heard before the City Council Judiciary and Legislative Investigations Committee, will be a significant step in helping reach this goal.

This bill does not ban the personal and private use of electronic cigarettes but rather regulates their use in public and indoor spaces, including restaurants and bars. Already existing regulations that apply to tobacco products would be extended to e-cigarettes in order to ensure the health of Baltimoreans is protected.

There is clear evidence that e-cigarette companies are deliberately marketing to youth by placing e-cigarettes near candy in convenience stores and manufacturing "e-juice" in sweet flavors such as chocolate, cola and vanilla. These marketing practices are very effective. In 2013, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that more than 250,000 middle and high school students had never smoked a cigarette but had used an e-cigarette. That figure is three times as high as it was just two years prior. A May 2014 study by the CDC also found a dramatic increase in calls to poison centers for e-cigarette related issues — from one per month in September 2010 to 215 per month in February 2014. More than 50 percent of these calls involved young children under age five.

There is a risk that children and young people who experiment with e-cigarettes could become addicted to nicotine and switch to smoking conventional cigarettes. Overall, cigarette smoking among children and youth has been on the decline for several years, but e-cigarettes have the potential to create an entire new generation of smokers.

At the Oct. 7th Judiciary and Legislative Investigations Committee hearing, Councilman Jim Kraft, chair of the committee, shared a story about his granddaughter asking why fans were smoking in the stands at Orioles Park at Camden Yards on Opening Day. It turned out they were using e-cigarettes, but this was not evident to other fans and stadium ushers because the vapor omitted when using e-cigarettes looks like smoke from a conventional cigarette. This confusion makes the enforcement of smoke-free laws very difficult and makes smoking seem acceptable again, reversing the tremendous progress we have made against the harmful effects that smoking has on youth.

E-cigarettes are also increasingly being touted as cessation devices, however they are not approved as such. In fact, no e-cigarette manufacturer has undergone the necessary clinical trials and federal approval to qualify these devices as a cessation aid. Instead, e-cigarettes can be used to circumvent existing smoke-free laws and sustain nicotine addictions.

Finally, the content of e-cigarettes, which includes nicotine, a substance as addictive as cocaine or heroin, and other harmful chemicals is entirely unregulated by any federal agency, such as the Food and Drug Administration. Clinical studies indicate that the vapor released into the air from e-cigarettes contains several toxic and carcinogenic compounds.

We now have the potential to stop a new generation of smokers by regulating the use of vaping indoors, enforcing the sale of e-cigarettes to minors and mandating that they be placed behind the counter in retail establishments. It is time that Baltimore joins nearly 200 other cities and counties, as well as three states, that have enacted prohibitions against using e-cigarettes indoors.

Jacquelyn Duval-Harvey is interim health commissioner of the Baltimore City Health Department. She can be reached at bchd2@baltimorecity.gov.

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