Chicago City Council Approves E-Cigarette Limits

Measure bans electronic cigarette use in public buildings, mandates they be sold behind-the-counter

Chicagoans puffing on electronic cigarettes will need to step outside and remain at least 15 feet away from any entrance to a public building.

Chicago aldermen on Wednesday voted 45 to 4 to approve a plan backed by the mayor to treat e-cigs just like many other tobacco products under the Smoke-Free Illinois Act. The ordinance would limit how the devices can be sold and where they can be used.

"I do not think we should wait on the FDA," Mayor Rahm Emanuel said after the vote. "Adults' ability to get the product won't be restricted. Children's ability to get the product will be restricted."

The vote was a lot wider than expected after contentious debate took place at the committee level earlier this week. Officials in north suburban Evanston passed a similar ordinance in November.

Alds. Roderick Sawyer (6th), Rey Colon (35th), Nick Sposato (36th) and Brendan Reilly (42nd) cast the four opposing votes.

The measure mandates that e-cigarettes be sold behind a retailer's counter, aiming to keep them out of the hands of minors. Some of the cartridges used in e-cigarettes are available in sweet flavors that critics say are attractive to children.

The United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported last September that use of the devices among middle and high school students doubled from 2011 to 2012. Eighty percent of those children who used e-cigs also said they smoked cigarettes, as well.

Many of the devices are sold by some of the big tobacco companies, and Emanuel on Tuesday said those companies are looking for new ways to increase profits.

"Tobacco use in this country has flattened, so the tobacco companies are trying to figure out how to get more users so they're targeting our most vulnerable population which is our children. Any one of us are here to protect our children," he said at an unrelated event to announce new jobs headed for Illinois.

Aldermen in opposition to the proposal contend there's little evidence the vapor that emanates from e-cigarettes is harmful, and some said that treating the devices like regular cigarettes would discourage smokers from turning to them for a cessation method.

NJOY, an independent e-cigaratte manufacturer, immediately expressed disappointment with the vote.

"This vote lacks any scientific basis and reflects a clear misunderstanding on the part of the City Council of the serious unintended consequences to public health that their actions will cause," the Scottsdale, Ariz., company said in a written statement.

But aldermen who voted for the ordinance had largely had the support of the health community who said there is still too much that's unknown about e-cigarettes.

"E-cigarettes cause almost all the things that cigarettes cause, said Dr. Arvin Goyal with the Institute of Medicine. "We found out they cause disease, they cause tremendous addiction, they even cause passive disease."

The Illinois General Assembly last year passed a bill that banned the sale of electronic cigarettes to minors. Gov. Pat Quinn signed that bill into law on Aug. 15, and it went into effect at the start of 2014.

If the ordinance is passed, Chicago would become the second major city to regulate e-cigarettes as tobacco products. New York City officials passed a similar measure in late December.

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