City to decide on e-cig moratorium

The Austin City Council will cast the deciding vote Monday on a one-year electronic cigarette moratorium that would ban e-cigarette use in public spaces and inside businesses.

The council will consider a second reading of a proposed e-cigarette moratorium at its public meeting, which starts at 5:30 p.m. Monday.

The council voted 4-3 in favor of the moratorium at its last meeting, with Council Members Steve King, Janet Anderson, Roger Boughton and Jeremy Carolan in favor and Judy Enright, Jeff Austin and Michael Jordal against. An ordinance for a moratorium requires a unanimous vote during its first reading and a simple majority on its second reading.

Mayor Tom Stiehm said last week he still supports a moratorium, although he won’t be able to vote on the issue.

“I’ve been reading more and more, and it’s just overwhelming all the bad evidence that’s coming out on it,” he said.

At least one council member will stick to his vote. Boughton said last week he is convinced a moratorium is the right decision.

King, Anderson and Carolan agreed with Boughton on the last vote, as the council members were concerned by the health risks and the tobacco industry’s practice of marketing e-cigarettes to children through different nicotine flavors and bright marketing.

E-cigarettes are a cylindrical device used to heat nicotine and produce a vapor. They have been on the market for about five 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.

Austin isn’t the only community discussing e-cigarette use this year. Cities across Minnesota have discussed e-cigarette regulations over the past few months. State legislators are discussing whether to add e-cigarettes to the state Clean Indoor Air Act, which would ban e-cigarettes in public places similar to other tobacco products. The measure has already passed Senate committees and a House committee discussed a stripped-down version of the bill. Gov. Mark Dayton opposed e-cigarette regulations last month when he said tobacco users had already been hit hard by the 2013 cigarette tax increase.

The Senate measure, which was set to go to a floor vote, was pushed back into committee.

Jordahl and Austin have previously said they oppose a moratorium as e-cigarette regulations would likely come from the state, and therefore doesn’t need local discussion. Stiehm disagreed with that argument last week.

“It’s just ridiculous not to act on it, he said. “You have to confront the issue, you can’t shove it off on the state or the federal government, or they’ll drag their feet on it.”

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