Savage has decided to keep things simple, taking steps to limit two increasingly common but ambiguous forms of smoking.
Officials are drafting an ordinance that will ban electronic cigarettes, also called e-cigs, in the same places that smoking tobacco is banned under the Minnesota Clean Indoor Air Act. That means e-cigs won't be allowed in places like restaurants, buses, stores, offices or day-care centers.
The city also wants to prohibit sampling, the umbrella term for any smoking that happens on-site at a hookah lounge, smoke shop or e-cigarette store.
The City Council will vote on the measure at the Oct. 6 meeting.
In recent years, many cities have struggled with how to regulate new ways of smoking as the practices grow.
"E-cigarettes are still in that no man's land" in which no one knows what to do with them, said Sarah Schwarzhoff, Savage's assistant attorney.
Last fall, many cities passed a moratorium on e-cigarettes, then waited to see what the Legislature would do. Legislators banned e-cigs in some public places, including government buildings, public schools, day cares and most health facilities, but stopped short of treating them like actual cigarettes.
Savage passed a similar one-year moratorium last February to evaluate its policies. That moratorium also included hookah lounges, cigar shops and e-cig stores.
At a recent City Council work session, council members gathered to discuss ending the moratorium, along with possible approaches to dealing with e-cigs and sampling. They also explored regulating the price of certain tobacco products.
Currently, under 'sampling' rules, smoking cigars or 'vaping' e-cigarettes at a store is legal in Minnesota, as is hookah smoking at a lounge.
Show and tell
At the meeting, Chris Farmer-Lies, a representative from the Association for Nonsmokers-Minnesota, passed around "little cigars." Some cities, such as Brooklyn Center, have recently set a hefty minimum price for them, hoping to discourage youth from smoking the cheap, fruit-flavored tobacco product.
Farmer-Lies also showed council members a hookah, a water pipe that several people can use at once to smoke flavored tobacco.
Hookahs, once used mostly by people of Middle Eastern descent, are now popular with college students, Farmer-Lies said. And one 90-minute hookah session can be as harmful as smoking 200 cigarettes, he added.
Mayor Janet Williams asked if a ban could be considered discriminatory.
"It's a cultural thing," Schwarzhoff said, so a hookah lounge ban would likely affect certain groups more than others. But from a legal perspective, it couldn't be considered discriminatory unless hookah lounges — as opposed to cigar or e-cig shops — were singled out.
Council member Al McColl said he wanted to keep things simple, prohibiting all e-cig use in places where smoking is banned and prohibiting sampling. All council members agreed.
However, the city shouldn't get into regulating the price of little cigars, said council member Gene Abbott.
Harmful or helpful?
E-cigs are battery-powered devices that vaporize a liquid solution that users inhale in a process called "vaping." The liquid usually contains nicotine and is available in many flavors. Because users inhale vapor, not smoke, e-cigarettes have been billed as a healthier, cleaner and less intrusive alternative to cigarettes.
Some contend that e-cigs can be used to help people quit smoking conventional cigarettes. Others say more needs to be learned about their effects.
A 2013 study conducted by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention linked smoking e-cigs with future cigarette smoking. More than 250,000 youth who had never smoked a cigarette used e-cigs in 2013, the study found, up from 79,000 in 2011. Among nonsmoking youth who had tried e-cigs, 44 percent said they intended to smoke conventional cigarettes in the next year, compared with 22 percent of those who had never used e-cigs.
Several weeks ago, the World Health Organization urged governments to pass more stringent rules for e-cigs, banning them or keeping them away from kids and teens until more is known.
Other cities' approaches
Duluth and Mankato were two of the first Minnesota cities to ban e-cigs in public places. Certain businesses, like the Mall of America, have banned them, too.
Eden Prairie went the same direction as Savage, banning e-cigs anywhere smoking is banned by the Minnesota Clean Indoor Air Act.
Other cities have adopted more nuanced approaches. In Shakopee, no smoking is allowed in retail stores, with the exception of e-cigs. The city wasn't comfortable banning e-cig smoking when they didn't know enough about its effects, Schwarzhoff said.
In Minneapolis, indoor smoking and sampling are banned unless the person has purchased the item at the time they are smoking it. As of last December, Burnsville has the same ordinance.
Staff Writer Shannon Prather also contributed to this report.