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Westminster considering ban of vaping in enclosed public spaces

In response to a request from two citizens, the Westminster Common Council is considering whether the city would benefit from limiting vaping in enclosed public spaces, similar to Maryland laws for tobacco smoking.

After discussing the matter at its Dec. 9 meeting, the council directed the city’s attorney to draft an ordinance modeled on the state’s laws for tobacco smoking in public places and a bill in neighboring Howard County that restricts vaping in places where smoking is prohibited.

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The Maryland Clean Indoor Air Act of 2007 was intended to limit the exposure to indoor tobacco smoke by prohibiting smoking in indoor areas open to the public, specifically including public meeting places, public transportation vehicles and indoor places of employment. The law excludes some hotel/motel rooms and businesses set up specifically for the sale of tobacco.

On Oct. 1, a Maryland law went into effect, raising the legal purchase age for tobacco and nicotine products, including vape products, from 18 to 21 for those not in the military.

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Health experts have issued nationwide warnings of potential health risks related to vaping. According to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data, as of Dec. 17, a total of 54 people — in 27 states and Washington, D.C. — have died after being hospitalized with e-cigarette, or vaping, product use-associated lung injuries. The CDC notes, though, that most vaping-related hospitalizations are the result of vaping with unofficial THC products.

No dates for public hearings on the Westminster proposal have been publicly announced yet. The next council meeting is scheduled for Jan. 13, though an agenda has not yet been posted. The meeting scheduled for Dec. 23 was canceled.

The council began considering a ban in public places after two Westminster residents, Chris Nallo and Tiffany Crump, spoke to the council about the difficulty of going out to eat with asthma and being unable to move away from other diners using e-cigarettes in restaurants.

The general manager of The Greene Turtle in Westminster also sent the council a letter in support of a ban on e-cigarette use indoors because of the potential for nonusers to be exposed.

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After being asked to research similar legislation in the state, City Attorney Elissa Levan found that at the county level, Prince George’s and Howard counties have banned the use of electronic cigarettes in all places where smoking is prohibited, Montgomery County has eliminated most vape shops, and Howard County has adopted additional restrictions on the sale and distribution of vaping devices, according to a memo to the council.

Some Westminster city council members and the mayor expressed support for a ban.

Mayor Joe Dominick, who is not a voting member of the council, said he thought it was a good idea.

“While I’m a big fan of personal freedoms, I think where it ends is when there are people that can’t really get away from whatever you’re doing,” he said.

Dominick said one aspect not often considered are the employees of bars and restaurants where patrons vape because they have less ability to avoid secondhand vapor.

Councilman Tony Chiavacci said that employees were the driving force behind the state legislation regarding tobacco. He said he expects the matter to come before state and federal legislatures before long.

Chiavacci said the fact that the discussion was driven by citizens was a chance to see “government work the way it’s really supposed to.”

He shared his own experience with the state legislation around public tobacco smoking in Maryland; he initially objected, as an aficionado of the now-closed cigar parlor The Havana Club.

“I consider myself a bit of a libertarian when it comes all that, and I really thought it was a terrible thing,” he said. “And I was completely wrong. It was one of the best pieces of legislation I think the state’s ever passed, what it has done in terms of people going out to bars and restaurants. It has been tremendously economically beneficial.”

Councilman Kevin Dayhoff cited health concerns in his support for a ban.

“I think before it’s all over," he said, "we’re going to find out that secondhand vaping is just as bad, if not worse, than tobacco.”

Councilwoman Ann Thomas Gilbert agreed.

“For those of us who have tons of allergies, we really don’t want to smell it,” she said.

Westminster residents may give feedback to the city by attending city meetings, held on the second and fourth Monday of the month at 7 p.m. at City Hall on Emerald Lane. Comments, with a name and address, may also be or emailed to Shannon Visocsky, city clerk, at svisocsky@westgov.com or mailed to the following: Attn: City Clerk US Mail: 56 West Main Street, Suite 1, Westminster, Maryland 21157.

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