By SEAN ROWLEY
As the Tahlequah City Council considers the possibility of banning electronic smoking devices, some citizens are vocally opposing the restriction of their use.
The overwhelming majority of “vapers” are ex-smokers, or have reduced their tobacco consumption through ESD use.
“I have been smoking since I was 12 and I am now 43,” said Diana Wakefield, a customer at Captain Vapor on Park Hill Road. “I was going through 2-1/2 cartons of cigarettes a month. I now smoke three packs a month. The rest of the time, I use vapor. My senses of smell and taste have recovered and I feel so much better.”
After Ordinance No. 1213-2013, intended to define electronic smoking devices and ban their used on city property, was read at Monday’s city council meeting, some said they believe the language would allow the city too much latitude.
Included among the “purpose definitions” in the ordinance were entries for “restaurant” and “standalone bar, standalone tavern, and cigar bar.” The ordinance will undergo revisions to its language before being read a second time at the special city council meeting Monday, Nov. 18.
“I believe the city was looking for a way to extend the ban beyond city property,” said Marvin Stepp, a proprietor for Captain Vapor. “This could have been a precedent.”
Captain Vapor is exclusively an ESD shop; it sells no tobacco. Stepp said there are monetary motivations for reducing the use of electronic smoking devices.
“This gets into the pockets of tobacco companies, pharmaceutical companies and anti-smoking groups,” Stepp said. “Tobacco companies are looking for legal precedents to ban the use of vapor devices because they have cut into their business by about 20 percent. That figure is expected to double in a short time.”
Stepp believes the products offered by Captain Vapor help perform a public service.
“We have sold 3,000 anti-smoking kits since we opened April 1,” he said. “That’s 3,000 people in the area who have quit using tobacco, or are using much less.”
Tobacco stores would have to walk a fine line
Kaitlin Davis and Paul Van Winkle are employees of Evolution Fine Cigars, where the increasing popularity of e-smoking is evident. Though a tobacco store, much of Evolution’s shelf space displays ESD equipment and liquids.
“I have a problem with the additives being called a tobacco product,” said Davis, an ESD user.
“Yes, there is nicotine, but it is not from tobacco. And if this is to be banned due to nicotine, then what about nicotine patches or gum?”
Though classifying e-cigarettes as tobacco products could presage a long legal battle, the FDA may give a municipality wiggle-room on distinctions between ESDs and anti-smoking patches and gum. The FDA regulates patches and gums as smoking cessation products. ESDs are not regulated by the FDA and not acknowledged as a smoking cessation method.
“I would like to see the city educate itself a little more about these products,” Van Winkle said
“We have a lot of smokers switching to vapor, and I don’t think the vapors are dangerous to others. I am a non-smoker, and I would much rather stand next to someone with a vapor device than with a cigarette.”
Nate King, Tahlequah chief of police, said e-smoking is currently legal in the city’s parks and public areas. Should the situation change, he speculated that enforcement would follow the tobacco model.
“I don’t know that we’ve issued any citations for smoking on city property,” King said. “But the people we’ve seen smoking in the park, we’ve been doing more of an educational approach, because it is not a well-known ordinance. We inform people it isn’t legal to smoke in the park and let them know they have to put it out. We would probably approach e-cigarettes the same way.”
The revised ordinance will be read and discussed at the next special meeting of the Tahlequah City Council on Nov. 18 at 7 p.m. in the council chambers at City Hall, 111 S. Cherokee Ave. The council will have the option of voting on the ordinance.
Josh Newton contributed to this story.
Go to Tahlequah Daily Press’ Facbook page at www.facebook.com/tdpress to see the Nov. 2 Saturday Forum. Nearly 150 comments were entered on the EDS ordinance issue.