Proposed ban on electronic cigarettes sparks emotional debate


Lan Nguyen/The Daily Northwestern

A Northwestern student smokes an electronic cigarette. Evanston City Council is considering banning the battery-powered devices from all places where other types of smoking are prohibited.

Patrick Svitek, City Editor

Evanston City Council on Monday night heard at times emotional pleas against banning electronic cigarettes from all places where other types of smoking are outlawed.

“You’re taking away the motivation of the people who want to get off of tobacco, and it’s very difficult,” said Michael Cozzi, a Lincolnwood, Ill., resident who represented the Consumer Advocates for Smoke-free Alternatives Association. “Even with an electronic cigarette, it’s very difficult.”

At their weekly meeting, aldermen postponed a decision on amending the city’s tobacco ordinance to address “vaping,” the common term for smoking electronic cigarettes. City manager Wally Bobkiewicz told the aldermen the ordinance was not complete and requested they wait two weeks to vote on it.

The battery-powered devices, also known as “e-cigarettes,” heat a liquid solution to simulate tobacco smoking. The Food and Drug Administration is expected to release proposed regulations for the products by the end of the month.

The World Health Organization says the safety of electronic cigarettes has not been “scientifically demonstrated,” though some studies have concluded they pose fewer health risks than regular cigarettes. Cozzi’s group cites a research paper published in March that found the level of toxic substances in e-cigarette vapors to be nine to 450 times lower than those in regular cigarette smoke.

Last month, a city memo acknowledged few studies have been done on the health risks of electronic cigarettes. However, the memo argued they should be banned because they look like regular cigarettes and “may lead people to believe that it is okay to smoke in areas that are smoke-free.”

Even if the health risks of electronic cigarettes remain unclear, several people urged the council to wait until more information is available before tackling the issue.

“Essentially, there are no risks whatsoever to people who are vaping or who are near vapors,” Evanston resident Tom Kendall told aldermen. “There’s just no transmission or very little transmission of anything except water vapor, which is what you see when a vaper exhales.”

“You might catch a whiff of whatever the flavoring is in there,” he added.

Schaumburg, Ill., resident Stephanie Spike called vaping a “much healthier alternative to smoking,” while Evanston resident James Gottschalk suggested his father may still be alive today if he had used electronic cigarettes instead of regular ones. He said his dad died due to emphysema and other long-terms effects from smoking tobacco.

“If he were able to use a product like electronic cigarettes … not be harnessed to an oxygen tank, I think that it goes without question that for us to restrict other individuals from having access to a product like that is very wrong,” Gottschalk said, fighting back tears.

He was not the only e-cigarette supporter to use a personal story to make his argument.

Cozzi said he picked up his last cigarette on June 5, 2010, after smoking since he was 14 years old. He credited electronic cigarettes with inspiring the same lifestyle change among other former smokers.

“I’m standing in front of you shaking,” Cozzi told aldermen. “This is how important this is to me.”

The next council meeting is scheduled for Oct. 28.

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Twitter: @PatrickSvitek