Smoking ban policy moves forward

Published 10:17 am Wednesday, February 18, 2015

The Austin City Council has preliminarily approved a policy banning e-cigarette smoking in public places.

The council moved the issue forward with a 4-3 vote during a work session Tuesday as part of its goal to resolve a one-year moratorium on e-cigarettes and hookahs in public places.

The moratorium bans e-cigarette use in public places, similar to tobacco products. It does not prevent e-cigarettes from being sold, or used on private property.

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The council will read and discuss the policy during its next two public meetings. Though the measure would need to pass unanimously during its first reading, the council will likely enact the policy a month from now after its second reading.

“This is a public health issue,” Council Member Janet Anderson said. “We need to have something comprehensive in terms of e-cigarettes.”

Council members passed the one-year moratorium last April banning the use of e-cigarettes and hookahs in public places and businesses. Yet the issue divided the council, which voted 4-3 for the ban twice before enacting it.

Council Member Michael Jordal, who was the most vocal critic of the moratorium in 2014, said he still believes the policy would be government overreach and limits a resident’s ability to decide whether to he or she would allow smoking in a business.

“I’m still not in favor of this,” Jordal told the council. “I still think it infringes on people’s property rights.”

E-cigarettes are a cylindrical device used to heat nicotine and produce a vapor. They have been on the market for about six years and haven’t undergone thorough testing by the Food and Drug Administration. Public health experts say e-cigarettes are filled with an unknown amount of nicotine and other chemicals.

E-cigarette proponents say e-cigarettes have helped people quit smoking, though the FDA doesn’t classify them as a tobacco cessation tool.

State legislators considered adding e-cigarettes to the state’s Clean Indoor Air Act in 2014, which would ban e-cigarettes in public places similar to other tobacco products. City officials had hoped the state would deal with the issue, but Mayor Tom Stiehm said many municipalities are taking matters into their own hands.

“It’s getting passed across the state,” he said.