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E-Cigarettes Still Largely Allowed

They’re fast becoming one of the biggest public health concerns, electronic-cigarettes. As more and more people take up using this tobacco alternative, some cities are pushing back. So where can you use e-cigarettes? At least one city here on the Central Coast says "not in our public places."


Toronto, ON -- (SBWIRE) -- 09/19/2014 -- I received this question anonymously, “Dear Jon, is it legal to smoke e-cigarettes in restaurants, bars or outside patios?

The answer is, yes and no.

The city of Santa Cruz has added e-cigarettes to their tobacco ban ordinance, but no other city on the Central Coast has done that, yet.

E-cigarettes, there’s no tobacco hence no smoke, but a battery powers the unit to heat the liquid laced with nicotine and the user inhales and exhales the vapor. For many, they're an attractive alternative to real tobacco.

Tobacco is banned in restaurants and bars and workplaces in California, but as of yet, there’s no state policy on e-cigarettes. It is on the radar of lawmakers in Sacramento. So much like the plastic bag bans popping up in cities and counties in the state, cities are left in the position of considering possible controls on usage in public.

One of the major concerns about e-cigarettes is that there’s a lack of research on the impacts of using the devices. Monterey County's Public Health Director Dr. Edward Moreno tells me he's concerned that e-cigarette's may be turning back the clock on public health.

“It’s taken decades for California businesses to set a new culture here, a culture in which people have the privilege to breathe smoke free air while shopping or dining,” says Moreno, “Businesses that allow e-cigarettes on their property are allowing or maybe allowing that culture to shift.

Moreno points to tobacco as an example of where we are with regard to understanding the impacts of e-cigarettes. He says 50 to 60 years ago the tobacco industry pushed their products on adults and youth. Then when research showed the devastating effects of tobacco on public health we started to see tobacco bans being put in place.

Says Moreno, “Even if we don't know if it’s harmful yet, the concern I have is that it may, it may increase the number of people in California in the future who will become tobacco users.”

Currently Santa Cruz is the only Central Coast city that has included e-cigarettes in their public tobacco ban policy. Seaside has discussed this issue; Salinas, Monterey, Pacific Grove, and Carmel have no policy. Watsonville is looking at keeping the devices out of the hands of children, but no policy yet.

Some businesses and restaurants are making their own call, ahead of any city ordinance, and adding verbiage such as “including e-cigarettes” on signs that remind patrons of their ‘no smoking’ policy.

Moreno believes tolerance of e-cigarettes could be turning back the clock on public health, “So allowing people to have something that looks like a cigarette and has vapor emitting from it publically and they are not prohibited, may have a detrimental impact on the culture of health that we've actually been able to achieve here in California.”

Moreno says there needs to be more research on the impacts of e-cigarettes and second-hand vapor. He points to a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention study from 2011 to 2013 that has poisonings occurring from e-cigarettes doubling and tripling year to year in a given month.

I reached out to the American Civil Liberties Union to discuss e-cigarettes. They refused to comment saying that was not a topic they would speak to.

So for now, e-cigarette users are at the mercy of what their community decides to do.

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