Suburban smokers who have ditched the Marlboro Man for the electronic cigarette won’t face smoking bans like those recently passed by major cities such as Chicago and New York anytime soon, area experts and business owners said.
Depending on future research studies, states and cities – small and large – eventually could start enacting prohibitions that outlaw electronic cigarettes in the same ways as traditional smokes.
“E-cigarettes are still in its infancy,” said John Nothdurft, government relations director for the Heartland Institute. “Big cities are open to heavy-handed regulations, but I don’t think the suburbs are as quick to jump on the regulatory bandwagon.”
The Heartland Institute, a free-market policy think tank based in Chicago, was one of the many groups to criticize Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Chicago aldermen for enacting a smoking ban earlier this month that prohibits e-cigarettes in bars, restaurants and most other indoor public places.
New York City passed a similar prohibition in December.
Los Angeles, San Francisco and the state of California are expected to debate e-cigarette regulations later this year, while Illinois and 26 other states already have banned the sale of the alternative tobacco product to children, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.
Unlike traditional cigarettes, e-cigarettes emit vapor instead of smoke, and don’t contain harmful byproducts, such as tar. The vapor can contain nicotine, synthetic nicotine, or no nicotine, and is usually mixed with artificial or natural fruit flavoring.
Supporters of the trending product argue that e-cigarettes contain far fewer chemicals than regular cigarettes and often help smokers quit the habit. Opponents say the health risks to the smoker and bystanders are unknown, and the product encourages tobacco smoking.
The Heartland Institute mainly criticized Chicago for enacting a premature ban, since the health studies on e-cigarette use are inconclusive, Nothdurft said.
“It’s inevitable that regulations will come up eventually, but I think a lot of cities and suburbs are still trying to figure out more about e-cigarettes,” he said.
In McHenry County, the debate over e-cigarette use and its health effects has slowly started.
McHenry County College in 2011 was one of the first community colleges in the Chicago area to become a tobacco-free campus. The no-smoking policy prohibits the use of cigarettes, e-cigarettes and other tobacco products on any college-owned property.
The college included e-cigarettes in its policy because the health effects are unknown, said Lena Kalemba, director of health and wellness at MCC.
“E-cigarettes are not monitored by the [Food and Drug Administration], manufacturers are not required to reveal the chemicals contained in them, and, therefore, the health effects are not known,” Kalemba said. “Until additional information is known, MCC chose to include them ... as a tobacco product.”
Steve Clai opened VapeTech Inc. in the Huntley Outlet Mall off Interstate 90 nearly five months ago after trying e-cigarettes first-hand. He said the product is misunderstood.
“We have people who have smoked for 30 years come in and quit just like that,” he said. “For people who say it encourages smoking, I don’t agree with it. They keep associating it with tobacco, and it’s not.”
Clai sells e-cigarettes, batteries and other related accessories. The e-cigarettes behind his store counter contain four ingredients – nicotine, fruit extracts, propylene glycol and a carbohydrate derived from plant oil.
At Huntley Village Hall, officials want to clarify the state’s new prohibition on underage e-cigarette sales that went into effect Jan. 1. The law penalizes the sale of e-cigarettes to minors but didn’t include provisions on kids caught possessing them, Trustee John Piwko said.
Piwko wants to amend the village’s local ordinances on tobacco to include underage e-cigarette possession. He proposed the idea after his sons saw classmates smoking e-cigarettes on a bus ride home from school.
The Village Board could vote on an amendment by early February, village officials said.
“I don’t think it’s something that anyone under the age of 18 is mature enough to deal with,” Piwko said. “I thought it was a health concern, and I thought we should address it.”