Bills to curb e-cigarettes pass City Council

Posted: March 29, 2014

PHILADELPHIA Electronic cigarettes are relatively new products still penetrating American consumer and popular culture, and the debate over their health risks and benefits remains intense.

But Philadelphia City Council on Thursday joined a number of cities and states that have taken preemptive action - to regulate e-cigarettes the same as old-fashioned Marlboros or Newports.

In the face of a lobbying and advertising drive by the new industry - much of it owned by big tobacco - Council unanimously passed bills to include e-cigarettes in the city's existing ban on public indoor smoking and forbid their sale to minors.

Mayor Nutter, who, as a councilman, was the driving force behind the city's smoking ban, is likely to sign the bills into law.

The sponsor of the e-cigarette legislation, Councilman William K. Greenlee, noted that the products were not regulated and said that enough health experts had raised concerns to warrant action.

"I know they say, 'Because we don't know enough, don't do anything,' " Greenlee said. "I'm saying, 'Because we don't know enough . . . we should take necessary precautions.' "

E-cigarettes are battery-powered devices that use electricity to vaporize a liquid containing nicotine. Users - known as "vapers" - inhale the vapor.

Advocates say no study to date has shown a harmful level of any chemical in e-cigarettes, which actually may help people kick tobacco addictions.

Jason Healy, president and founder of a brand called blu eCigs, said Council's action was a "recipe for relapse" for former tobacco smokers.

"If you can't have an e-cigarette inside, if you have to go outside," he said in an interview, "you might as well have a cigarette."

The website for blu eCigs, known for commercials starring the actor Stephen Dorff, features a robust counterpoint to laws being pushed throughout the country - "Your freedom to vape is under attack."

But Philadelphia is joining an impressive list. New York, Los Angeles, and Chicago, and New Jersey have added e-cigarettes to their smoke-free laws. At least half the states ban their sales to minors.

E-cigarette companies had lobbied Council and run local radio ads as Greenlee's bills neared a final vote. (Healy's company, started in 2009, was bought in 2012 by tobacco giant Lorillard.)

"An industry, I don't know how else to say it, that lied to people for decades . . . now they're saying, 'Trust us, we're putting out a safe product,' " Greenlee said. "I'm a trusting guy, but I don't trust that."

Healy said the people who used to run big tobacco "aren't around today."

"It's just another way," he said, "to not go into an actual debate on the facts and the science."

Most scientists agree that e-cigarettes are safer than tobacco, but they disagree on whether the devices can help smokers quit, and whether enough study has been conducted to declare them safe.

There's also debate on whether e-cigarettes will lead nonsmokers, particularly children, toward tobacco addiction.

The Food and Drug Administration is expected to decide soon on regulations.

Aras Azuolas is the owner of Bristol-based Vapor Chef, a fast-growing company that makes the liquid used in e-cigarettes.

He told Council on Thursday that the "carrier liquids" are harmless, that they're used in indoor fog machines and even asthma inhalers.

"If you're going to ban indoor vaping, you might as well ban indoor fog machines used at concerts and clubs," he said. "It's the same exact vapor."


tgraham@phillynews.com

215-854-2730 @troyjgraham

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