E-cigarette awareness voiced as county eyes ban

by Michelle Saxton
Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Wilmington storeowner who sells electronic cigarettes was concerned a recent county ordinance to ban the vapor products from county buildings and vehicles sends a message the devices are dangerous.

“That may stop someone who is considering using electronic cigarettes to quit smoking,” said David Peterson, who owns nine Electra Vapor stores in Wilmington, Jacksonville and Fayetteville during a Monday, Dec. 2, phone interview.

New Hanover County commissioners passed an ordinance in November to prohibit e-cigarette use in county vehicles or buildings where smoking or tobacco products currently are banned or within 50 feet of a public entrance to county buildings. Violations could result in a $100 civil  citation.

County Commissioners Chairman Woody White said the ordinance draws no conclusions as to whether e-cigarettes are good or bad for you. 

“The science is not yet definitive on that issue,” White said in a Dec. 2 email, adding of the ordinance, “It was initiated by staff, as I understand it, primarily due to workplace management issues, and wanting to be out front on vapor in a closed work area, that may be upsetting to others in close proximity to it.” 

County officials were coordinating outreach efforts to educate employees and the public about the ordinance and clarify that it only applies to county-owned property, public and legislative affairs manager Carey Disney Ricks said.

Signs have been ordered to help with the process, assistant county manager Avril Pinder said.

“No fees will go into effect until signs have been erected and we educate the staff and public on the rules,” Pinder said in a Dec. 2 email.

Peterson said he smoked conventional cigarettes for 25 years before quitting two years ago using e-cigarettes, which are defined by the United States Food and Drug Administration as battery-operated products that turn nicotine and other chemicals into vapor users inhale. 

Liquids used in e-cigarettes contain propylene glycol, vegetable glycerin and water, along with varying levels of nicotine, Peterson said. Some also contain flavors.

“Most people know they need to quit smoking, they just don’t want to quit,” Peterson said. “With electronic cigarettes some people lower their level of nicotine.”

Peterson said he used to smoke about one and a half packs a day. He now uses e-cigarettes but has reduced his nicotine level from 24 milligrams when he first started to as low as 12 milligrams.

Nearly all of Peterson’s customers are or were traditional tobacco smokers, he said.

The FDA’s website stated that nicotine is addictive and that full studies have yet to be done on the safety and efficacy of e-cigarettes.

The American Association of Public Health Physicians’ website stated in a tobacco policy guide that never using tobacco or nicotine is the healthiest choice but also that e-cigarettes and other smoke-free products are less hazardous than smoking and can be an option for those who need help quitting.

Coastal Horizons Center Prevention Services has not made a position on where it stands with e-cigarettes, but the nonprofit behavioral health agency has included e-cigarettes in its tobacco-free campus policy, said Jane McDonald, a program coordinator.

“Until there’s further information on the research on e-cigarettes, right now they’re just saying no, let’s not have them used,” McDonald said last month.

New Hanover County Strategy and Policy Manager Beth Schrader spoke about the ordinance at a Nov. 18 commission meeting, saying county staff members have asked for the change and that the request was prompted by a rise in people using e-cigarettes and by questions about people wanting to use e-cigarettes at work. She added the issue relates to both workplace appropriateness and public health and safety.

“There are concerns in regards to the fact that there is no data proving that it is safe to second-hand folks that are exposed to the e-cigarette vapor that’s being released,” Schrader said in an online feed of the meeting, later adding, “If at some point on a later date it proves to be safe to folks that are being exposed to it second-hand, at that point in time we could always make an amendment.”

Meanwhile, North Carolina lawmakers passed a bill this year that bans the sale of e-cigarettes to minors. Senate Bill 530, sponsored by Sen. Thom Goolsby, R-New Hanover, took effect in August.

email michelle@luminanews.com

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