By KIM POINDEXTER
The Cherokee County Communities of Excellence Tobacco Control Program has asked the Tahlequah City Council to remove from its Monday, Nov. 18 agenda an ordinance banning the use of electronic cigarettes from city property.
Mayor Jason Nichols confirmed that, at least for the time being, there will be no action on the controversial measure, which drew a standing-room-only crowd to the Nov. 4 council meeting.
“We’ve removed the item from the agenda at the direction of the people who requested its consideration,” Nichols said. “I think that they’ve become aware of the need for more information to be presented and more discussion to be had over that data before any change to the city’s regulations [is made].”
When copies of the original ordinance began circulating days before the council meeting, e-cig users and employees of businesses selling those products began posting protests on Facebook and urging local residents to oppose implementation.
Misinformation on social media about the ordinance’s actual intent raised the ire of many citizens, who believed the use of e-cigs would be forbidden throughout the city. However, advocates said they only wanted to prohibit the use of those products on city property.
The inclusion of Tahlequah’s public parks on the ban list drew objections from dozens of “vapers,” who maintain e-cigs are safer than tobacco because they don’t cause cancer, nor does the vapor emitted from the devices pose the hazards of second-hand smoke.
Nichols agrees that city officials should proceed with caution.
“I had informed [coalition members] that I personally felt there isn’t sufficient rationale for a ban on city properties, given the lack of data on the subject,” he said.
Officials in a few other Oklahoma cities, like Ada, have imposed similar bans, and media reports indicate the restrictions are still highly unpopular with residents, many of whom say they have used e-cigs to quit smoking. Other cities have delayed voting on proposed measures so officials can solicit further input from the public and the medical community.
“We’ve met with people who are in opposition to what had been proposed and will do so with those who had made the proposal soon,” Nichols said. “Both sides have indicated interest in continued discussion on the issue, especially regarding sale [of e-cigarettes] to minors. But the ordinance that was proposed is no longer under consideration.”