Minneapolis moved one step closer Monday to becoming the latest city to keep e-cigarettes out of restaurants, offices and other public spaces.
After listening to comments by two dozen people — about half of them in favor of more restrictions, and half opposed — a Minneapolis City Council committee voted 6-0 in favor of the new rules. The issue will now be forwarded to the full council for a final vote.
While opponents of the restrictions told the council that e-cigarettes provide a vital tool for those trying to quit smoking, council members seemed more swayed by the testimony of doctors, community health workers and business owners who said chemicals emitted by the vapor devices could put others at risk.
Council Member Andrew Johnson said that while e-cigarettes create less pollution than traditional cigarettes, he doesn’t buy that the devices are completely safe.
“We’ve heard from experts and doctors who showed up here today to say that these products are not safe,” Johnson said. “So I guess I look to the old adage that your liberty to swing your fist ends where my nose begins."
The proposed changes follow a recent change in state law that prohibits e-cigarette use, also known as “vaping,” in and around schools, hospitals and public university campuses. The city already bans the devices in city-owned facilities and vehicles. Minneapolis is one of several Minnesota cities that have further tightened the rules or are considering doing so.
People who spoke against tighter restrictions included owners of e-cigarette shops, members of vapers’ advocacy groups and former smokers who said e-cigarettes were key to kicking the habit.
Jason Downing, who described himself as a former pack-a-day smoker, said additional regulations would force e-cigarette users into areas used for smoking — the exact places many are trying to avoid.
“If you choose to place this ban, you are deciding that despite quitting smoking over a year ago, I am still a smoker,” he said. “You’re deciding that in public I should share space with current smokers and secondhand smoke.”
Others argued that businesses should be left to decide if they want to allow e-cigarette use. Gregory Conley, of the American Vaping Association, told council members that about 50 bars and restaurants in Minneapolis currently allow the devices.
“Self-regulation is working,” he said. “Businesses that don’t want [e-cigarette] use are reacting and banning use.”
But representatives of some business organizations, including the Minnesota Restaurant Association and the Building Owners and Managers Association of Greater Minneapolis, backed the changes.
A handful of medical professionals told the council that researchers are still figuring out the potential health concerns related to e-cigarettes, so people shouldn’t take risks. Some said they’re concerned about growing interest from young people in the devices. E-cigarettes are often sold in a variety of fruit and candy flavors.
Gail Arnold, a bakery owner and physician assistant, said she believes e-cigarettes are marketed directly at children and urged the council to help remove the impression that using vapor devices is safe.
“Allowing e-cigarette vaping use in public places visibly shows children in our community that it is safe and is considered an OK behavior,” she said.