Fayette County Board of Health wants to regulate electronic cigarettes, raising some questions

The Lexington-Fayette County Board of Health is discussing ways to restrict the use of electronic cigarettes in public places and strategies to inform people about their potential dangers, Mary Meehan writes for the Lexington Herald-Leader. This continues not only the debate about whether or not e-cigarettes should be regulated the same way as traditional tobacco products but also how much power health boards may have in such matters.

E-cigarettes are battery-powered, and the liquid nicotine turns to vapor that can be inhaled. Though they don’t contain tobacco, nicotine is sometimes used as a pesticide and can be harmful to humans as well. The General Assembly recently passed a law regulating e-cigarette sales, making them illegal to minors. The Danville City Commission has already banned the indoor use of e-cigarettes. “The state now classifies them as a tobacco product. What makes them different? By our ordinance, there is no distinction,” City Manager Ron Scott said.

Sometimes advertisements make it seem as though e-cigarettes are a safe alternative to traditional smoking, Meehan writes. Fayette Health Board Chairman Scott White, an attorney, noted that some e-cigarette flavors, such as bubble gum, target children. “If marketing a deadly product to children isn’t evil, I don’t know what is,” he said. “We have enough history with the tobacco industry to know we need to get ahead of this.”

Some think e-cigarettes can help people quit smoking, but that hasn’t been proven. More research is still needed. Also, even if e-cigarettes help some people quit smoking, they may be a “gateway drug” to others.

The board may change “Lexington’s current smoking ban to include e-cigarettes” and create “a public education campaign,” Meehan reports. It’s unclear how the board would do that, since the ban was passed by the Urban County Council. Also, the state Supreme Court recently ruled that health boards couldn’t pass smoking bans, and it’s unclear whether that decision would come into play.

Ellen Hahn, director of Kentucky Center for Smoke-Free Policy, told Meehan it would be best to “include electronic cigarettes in smoke-free laws because they are a tobacco product, and they pollute the air,” Meehan writes. “E-cigarettes give off tiny particles that can lodge in the lungs and cause disease.”

Though public health departments are helping reduce smoking rates in Kentucky, the “rates remain high, with about 29 percent of adults smoking and approximately 18 percent of people younger than 18,” Meehan reports. “The state has also reported a leap in nicotine poisonings, and that leap has been tied to e-cigarettes.” (Read more)

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