Council bans smoking e-cigs in public places

Published 6:36 am Tuesday, March 17, 2015

The Austin City Council passed a ban Monday on smoking electronic cigarettes in public places almost a year after declaring a moratorium on the issue.

The council voted 4-3 Monday for the ban. Council Members Jeremy Carolan, Dave Hagen, Janet Anderson and Steve King supported the measure while Council Members Judy Enright, Jeff Austin and Michael Jordal voted against.

Council members passed a 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. The council once again voted 4-3 on Feb. 16 to move the issue forward.

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Yet the council couldn’t pass the moratorium on the first try when it read the new policy during a March 2 meeting. Mayor Tom Stiehm supported the measure as a tiebreaker in place of Dave Hagen, who was absent attending council member training at a conference.

The measure needed to pass unanimously during its first reading.

Various experts had testified on March 2 in support of the ban, but the council voted during a meeting Monday without hearing further testimony. No one who was against the ban was present at the meeting.

Thor Bergland, a counselor at Austin High School, lauded the council for its decision. He said the ban represented a culture shift and would help teens who may try vaping not to see e-cigarettes as an accepted part of society.

“The more they see adults vaping, the more likely they’re going to use,” Bergland, a part of Austin’s Drug Task Force, said.

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.

The ban goes into effect immediately, as the moratorium was set to expire next month.