Electronic cigarette supporters were dealt a big blow this month with another loss to add to the growing list of e-cig bans. On December 1st, 2011, the Boston Health Commission voted to ban the use of electronic cigarettes in workplaces, as well as outdoor areas such as restaurant patios, decks, and loading docks. The smoking ban currently in effect was amended to specifically include the ban on e-cigarettes amongst other topics.
Back in September, the Boston Health Commission had approved a proposal governing the sale and regulation of electronic cigarettes. The proposed rules were presented by the board during the commission’s meeting on September 8th,2011, and were unanimously approved. After more than a month-long public comment period and several hearings, the final deciding vote took place on December 1st, with the commission moving forward to ban the use of e-cigarettes in workplaces and outdoor areas such as restaurant patios.
The board expressed their concerns regarding the lack of knowledge, regulation and enforcement on certain tobacco products. “We don’t know what people are inhaling with these e-cigarettes,” said Nikysha Harding, director of tobacco control for the commission, adding that “the sale of low-cost, single cigars just slightly larger than cigarettes has become an attractive option for price-conscious youth looking for alternatives to cigarettes.”
With the board’s new ordinance, retailers will be required to apply for a permit through the commission’s Tobacco Control Office to sell electronic cigarettes and place them behind the counter. Their sale will be prohibited to minors and e-cigarette use is banned in the workplace, restaurant patios, decks, and loading docks. At least 14 other Massachusetts communities – including Burlington, Easthampton, and New Bedford – already regulate e-cigarettes, according to the Massachusetts Municipal Association’s tobacco control program.
Despite the amendment, one member of the health commission, Harold Cox, thinks the workplace ban was perhaps too hasty. Cox, who voted with the rest of commission members to ban sales of e-cigarettes to minors, was the lone dissenter on the separate vote on whether to prohibit the products in the workplace. He mentioned public testimony from smokers who said that e-cigarettes had helped them quit. “Many times, when we make policies around public health, we want to have something that says we believe this is the right thing to do because it will prevent something or protect something,’’ Cox said. But most times, he said, those decisions are based on ample data. That’s not the case with e-cigarettes, he said.
While the FDA attempted to have e-cigarettes regulated as medical devices, this attempt was barred by a federal judge earlier this year and the FDA has since proposed new rules to regulate e-cigarettes as a tobacco product. The agency said it conducted a preliminary analysis on samples of e-cigarettes from two leading brands and found significant quality-control issues and some evidence of toxic chemicals.
Some tobacco control advocates challenge those findings, however, saying the agency’s analysis was too limited and the conclusions too hasty. They say other studies have found that the products contain no more hazardous chemicals than those found in other nicotine replacement products, such as the patch and gum, and that many smokers are using e-cigarettes because it does help them curb or kick the habit.