It’s not smoke, but that doesn’t mean vaporizing is safe.
That’s the message coming from the Coconino County Public Health Services District.
Electronic cigarettes are soaring in popularity, doubling in use each year since 2008. Patrons smoke them in downtown bars and coffee shops. And as more people take up the habit, an increasing number of workplaces and public institutions have already banned e-cigarettes and other vaporizing devices.
In 2011, the Board of Supervisors added electronic cigarettes to their existing smoking ban in unincorporated Coconino County.
But that message hasn’t gotten out everywhere.
At the Mountainaire Tavern, an employee contacted Friday by the Daily Sun said electronic cigarettes were allowed to be smoked on the premise and that he was unaware of any ban.
And now Coconino County health officials want to add other electronic smoking devices to the existing ban as well — making it illegal to vape any substance in public. Health officials say that not only are electronic cigarettes potentially harmful to the user, they also have toxins that could be harmful as secondhand smoke.
Some worry that the industry’s chosen flavors are also aimed at minors, which could create traditional smokers later in life.
“It’s of concern to us and to parents as well,” said Assistant Chief Health Officer for Coconino County Mike Oxtoby. “When you start to add a flavor of peppermint, cherry or bubblegum, it really raises the interest of youth and can get them into a habit that is not healthy.”
MUNICIPALITIES NOT INCLUDED
The health district put the issue before its advisory board last month, asking them to recommend that the Board of Supervisors embrace a ban. The advisory board is made up of physicians, nurses, physical therapists, retired people and elected officials.
If Coconino County does adopt the ban, it would not necessarily affect all of the 1,400 establishments covered under the current ban on classic cigarettes. Incorporated areas of the county, such as the city of Flagstaff, would have to decide if they wanted to take a position on banning electronic cigarettes (see related story).
More than 100 municipal and state governments already have a ban of one form or another. Other countries, including Australia, Brazil, Canada, Israel and Mexico, have banned electronic cigarettes outright.
“We’re not looking to ban the product. Our goal as public health proponents is to ban the use in public places,” Oxtoby said. “What we’re asking the advisory board to consider is to regulate electronic nicotine delivery systems — ENDS — that would include traditional electronic cigarettes, hookahs, pipe vaporizers and electronic hookahs.”
And when business owners call the county to ask about legality, health officials already recommend forbidding the practice.
LONG-TERM STUDIES SCARCE
No long-term studies have been done on the burgeoning device. And the results so far on human health are muddled by a lack of comprehensive research and by industry-funded studies.
That’s not to say there aren’t reasons to be concerned. People with asthma, heart disease and respiratory disease have already been warned off. The World Health Organization and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control are both advocating for more research to be done.
“There have been some studies done on the products and 10 known agents have been found that are known to cause cancer or reproductive toxicity,” Oxtoby said. “We think that is too big of a health risk to expose the population to.”
Meanwhile, 48 state attorneys general, including Arizona’s, have asked the Food and Drug Administration to get involved. The agency has yet to look at electronic cigarettes.
“The toxins are less than a traditional cigarette, but they’re still really high,” Oxtoby said. “It goes back to the long-term studies and the lack of regulations by the FDA. No two e-cigs are made alike. It’s really buyer beware. You don’t know what you could be inhaling. That’s attributed to the lack of regulation by the FDA.”
Flagstaff smoking ban doesn’t include e-cigs
April 06, 2014 12:30 am • Daily Sun Staff
The city of Flagstaff has an ordinance that bans traditional smoking in a long list of buildings used by the public, including bars, museums, theaters, heath care facilities, child care and adult care facilities, public areas in apartment buildings and businesses, restaurants, stores and sports facilities.
But because the ordinance, which took effect in 2005, does not mention e-cigarettes, city spokesperson Kim Ott said city officials believe the use of the devices cannot be banned generally without amending the ordinance. Until or if that occurs, businesses and other organizations can establish their own policies on e-cigarettes.
One place that the city can ban their use without changing the law is in municipal buildings, which can be done by rule-making. Ott said e-cigarettes are treated just like cigarettes — there is no smoking inside city buildings and no smoking within a “reasonable distance” of windows, doorways and ventilation systems.
So how do businesses and other entities in Flagstaff handle e-cigarettes?
— Al Hennis from Flagstaff Brewing Company said the brewery doesn’t have a policy on the electronic devices either way.
Hennis said he’s had some customers use e-cigarettes indoors and hasn’t had a problem. The brewery also has an outdoor smoking area.
“It’s sort of a non-issue. We haven’t really worried about it,” he said.
— A person who answered the phone at Firecreek Coffee Company said the coffeehouse doesn’t have a policy, either. There’s a regular customer who uses an e-cigarette and it doesn’t seem to bother anyone, the employee said.
— Flagstaff Unified School District recently banned the use of e-cigarettes.
The FUSD District Governing Board voted unanimously in October to add language about e-cigarettes, tobacco substitutes, vapor products and other chemical inhalation devices to its anti-smoking policy. Under the amended policy, e-cigarettes and similar devices are prohibited on FUSD property and at school-sponsored events on or off campus.
“This is as much for visitors as it is for students,” said Superintendent Barbara Hickman last fall when the board adopted the ban. “We want to make sure that people who come onto campus realize that the same laws apply to them. E-cigarettes would not be welcome at football games, they would not be welcome at other events where non-school people might be present as well as students.”
Any person caught smoking an e-cigarette on FUSD property or at a school-sponsored event could be charged with a petty offense under Arizona’s tobacco law. Disciplinary penalties for students caught using e-cigarettes could include suspension or expulsion.
— E-cigarettes are not welcome at most local charter schools, either, regardless of whether or not they have policies as black-and-white as FUSD’s.
“We do not have a specific policy, but we would treat them just like we do regular cigarettes,” said Flagstaff Arts & Leadership Academy Executive Director Becky Daggett.
— The Flagstaff Medical Center moved to ban electronic cigarettes in January and used the opportunity to produce new maps showing where smoking is not allowed across the campus.
“Flagstaff Medical Center embraces the culture of wellness and health and we didn’t felt that allowing electronic cigarettes reflects that and was setting a good example for the community and for our patients,”said Trista MacVittie, marketing director for Northern Arizona Healthcare.
The medical center also offers its employees access to a quit-smoking program that distributes educational material and smoking cessation helpers, such as lozenges and gum.
— Northern Arizona University has banned the use of electronic cigarettes inside buildings as well as inside university vehicles.