By SEAN ROWLEY
A cloud of dust - or maybe a vapor trail - was kicked up at Monday night’s Tahlequah City Council meeting during discussion of a proposed ordinance, and the talk continues unabated on Facebook and other forums.
The ordinance, No. 1213-2013, would define electronic smoking devices and prohibit their use on city property. However, concern was expressed by citizens at the meeting that the ordinance sought to ban e-cigarettes citywide.
Part of the problem, officials said, was an awkwardly written ordinance. Another issue was the local grapevine, which tends to distort issues – particularly controversial ones. The moderators of at least two Facebook pages made the “citywide ban” claim.
The ordinance was only read and discussed Monday night, and could not be passed.
“By law, we are required to give two readings of any new ordinance and have discussion,” said Tahlequah Mayor Jason Nichols. “The council will be able to vote on it at the next council meeting, if it so chooses.”
That meeting will be Monday, Nov. 18.
Electronic smoking devices don’t contain tobacco, though most do use fluid containing nicotine.
Though there is disagreement about whether the devices should be classified as tobacco products, they are often sold in tobacco shops, and the ordinance has the support of local smoking cessation advocates.
“It would only ban their use on property that is city-owned,” said Carol Choate, director of the Cherokee County Communities of Excellence Tobacco Control Program. “That would include areas such as city buildings and city parks. This will help us maintain clean air and reduce the modeling of e-smoking to children.”
Choate said the spirited debate during Monday’s council meeting gave her the impression that some believe she hopes to ban e-smoking devices within the city. That, she said, is not her goal.
Nichols said the city of Tahlequah could not prohibit e-cigarettes within its limits, even if the council wanted to do so.
“It is my understanding, from what I heard at the meeting and read on social media, that there is some concern about a ban,” he said.
“We can’t make them illegal without a state law. We have not begun the process yet, but I will sit down with the city attorney [Park Medearis] and we will work to make the language of the ordinance clear that it is in no way an attempt to ban the use of electronic smoking devices in the community.”
Choate: “There is no rush; money is not the reason”
Some at the council meeting also suspected the motive of the ordinance is financial. Choate said passage of the ordinance can have some monetary benefit, but not in any large amount.
The Oklahoma Tobacco Settlement Endowment Trust offers Health Community Incentive Grants to cities receiving certification through the Certified Healthy Communities program. Choate’s previous application earned an award to the city of $8,000.
Further funds, perhaps amounting to a maximum of $42,000, could be granted to Choate’s organization, which is part of the TSET’s Communities of Excellence in Tobacco Control; that money would go toward smoking cessation efforts at the local effort. But no additional money is assured.
“This ordinance would follow TSET guidelines, but it could pass, and we could easily receive nothing more from TSET,” she said. “We already receive $200,000 annually from the settlement. We are not in a hurry to push the ordinance through. There is no rush. Money is not the reason we would like to see this ordinance approved.”
Information on the dispersal of funds and grants from TSET is available at www.ok.gov/tset.
Electronic smoking devices are designed to simulate and substitute for tobacco.
A heating element turns a liquid solution into vapor, which is inhaled or drawn into the mouth. While designed to deliver nicotine, some liquid additives are marketed that are only flavored and contain no nicotine.
Because e-smoking is a recent phenomenon, the devices are not regulated by the Food and Drug Administration and data is scarce. Largely anecdotal evidence suggests that “vaping” is less dangerous than smoking tobacco, and there are many smokers claiming to have successfully switched to e-cigarettes, or used them to quit nicotine altogether.
Kenneth Gibson, an osteopathic doctor with the NeoHealth clinic in Hulbert and a specialist in addiction and pain management, said he needs more data before he widely recommends electronic smoking devices.
“E-cigarettes do incorporate a harm reduction factor,” Gibson said.
“It is safer to inhale vapor than smoke from burning organic material. However, you are still metabolizing nicotine, and nicotine is one of the most addictive drugs we know of. You can still suffer all the side effects – higher blood pressure, bronchospasms, joint and muscle pains. With the available information, I would only recommend e-cigarettes to a smoker who wants to quit nicotine and believes they are helping.”
The next special meeting of the Tahlequah City Council is Nov. 18 at 7 p.m. in the council chambers at City Hall, 111 S. Cherokee Ave.