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Our View: Kudos to Westminster for restricting indoor, public vaping

The vote was unanimous even if the reaction on social media has not been.

During Monday night’s Mayor and Common Council meeting, Westminster became the first municipality in the state to restrict vaping in most indoor public areas when the city’s council members voted to approve an addition to the city code that will go into effect July 1. Those who flout the ordinance will pay the price, with escalating fines for individuals and businesses found in violation.

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A section will be added to the Westminster city code under peace and good order. The section includes prohibitions for smoking or vaping in enclosed public spaces, not including businesses specifically established for selling or distributing those products like vape shops and cannabis dispensaries.

City officials began discussing the possibility of vaping restrictions in early December after two concerned residents talked about the difficulty of going out to eat with asthma and being unable to move away from other diners using e-cigarettes. 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. Nonusers certainly could include workers.

At that Dec. 9 meeting, the council asked residents to express their opinions on the matter via email. In January, it was announced that a public hearing on the topic would be held during the council’s Feb. 24 meeting. No residents spoke during the public hearing portion of the meeting on Monday, and the city received what was described as a “handful” of written comments in the 10 weeks or so since first discussing the subject.

In the 24 hours after the vote, numerous social media posts and comments on our story complained about government overreach. People are certainly free to express their displeasure with this and any decision by elected officials, although, had those keyboard warriors put their skills to use by emailing the city or come out in large numbers to the Monday meeting, perhaps they could’ve influenced the decision before it was made, rather than merely complaining about it after the fact.

Regardless, we are in agreement with the restriction on vaping, our opinion echoing what Mayor Joe Dominick said Dec. 9: “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.”

There’s little data on the long-term medical effects of vaping — the experts just don’t know yet. But the short-term and anecdotal evidence isn’t pretty. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are investigating nearly 3,000 cases of e-cigarette or vaping product use-associated lung injury (EVALI) in the United States, with 68 deaths confirmed. And the American Lung Association considers vaping to be a dangerous risk factor for “popcorn lung,” the narrowing and scarring of airways.

Do we know, for sure, that vaping — or contact with secondhand vapor — is harmful? No. There simply isn’t enough data yet on this relatively new phenomenon. But we should absolutely err on the side of public safety. And on the side of making people feel comfortable out in public.

But what it does to those who vape isn’t at issue. It’s what it does to those around them. There is virtually no data about secondary vaping. (Of course, the dangers of secondary smoke were known for decades before bans on cigarette smoking in public, indoor areas went into effect — a ban which, by the way, proved to be generally good for businesses.)

But even if it is never proven that secondary vaping is dangerous to one’s long-term health, that vaping irritates those with asthma, other respiratory illnesses or allergies; that it exposes workers and fellow patrons to addictive nicotine (at the least) and that it bothers people thanks to its often pungent, sometimes fruity aroma provides reason enough to restrict its use indoors.

Remember, those who wish to can still vape at vape shops, outside of other types of business, in most open spaces and, of course, inside their cars or homes. Just not in enclosed public spaces.

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So kudos to Westminster for being proactive in protecting the large portion of the population who previously had to decide whether to remain in a restaurant or other business and deal with a situation that was, at the least, annoying and, at the most, harmful, or to walk out — either on a meal or a job. We hope other municipalities follow suit.

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