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No vaping allowed

NORTH LIBERTY– The North Liberty City Council took the first step in banning electronic cigarettes in the community’s public spaces.
At its March 8 meeting, the five-member council unanimously approved the first reading of an ordinance amendment to ban vapor products, commonly referred to as e-cigarettes, in the city’s designated smoke-free places.
“It was one of the shortest ordinance I’ve ever drafted,” City Attorney Scott Peterson told the council.
Peterson said he borrowed wording from an ordinance proposed by the City of Coralville, which was crafted from Iowa City’s ordinance banning e-cigarettes in the same places as tobacco cigarettes.
It was almost as easy for Johnson County Public Health Department Director Doug Beardsley and Health Educator Susan Vileta to convince the council on the virtues of the amendment. The two approached the city council in January to share research and current trends in e-cigarette use.
An electronic cigarette or vaporizing device is typically battery-operated, with a heating element that heats a liquid substance and aerosolizes it for inhalation. Anecdotally touted as a smoking cessation device less harmful than regular tobacco, Beardsley said there is no research supporting either assertion.
Because the manufacturing of vapor and tobacco-alternative products is not regulated by the federal Food and Drug Administration (FDA), there is no quality control and no ingredient labels are required.
“You don’t know what you are getting,” Beardsley said. While the devices are advertised as producing harmless water vapor, Beardsley said such a claim is chemically impossible. “They contain varying amounts of nicotine or other substances. Even in some brands labeled non-nicotine, we find nicotine in them when studied independently. Some contain metals, acetone, formaldehyde, and we have found VOCs (volatile organic compounds) in them.”
Therefore, the emissions and exhaled vapors is absorbed by non-users, and could be as harmful as second-hand tobacco smoke, he added.
“It’s only a matter of time before we get studies that show the long term health effects,” said Beardsley.
Vileta said the marketing tactics targeting young customers are particularly concerning. She shared a photograph showing a variety vapor devices available for purchase, many decorated with themes that appeal to youngsters.
“You can see Hello Kitty, Avengers, super heroes. You can’t say they are marketing those things to adults,” said Vileta. “As for the flavors, they use things like maple syrup, vanilla cupcake, Yummy Bears, thin mints…the Girl Scouts got pretty mad because they didn’t want the Girl Scout name used in peddling those wares.”
Further, unlike the tobacco industry, e-cigarettes makers are not restricted in advertising their goods.
“They can be advertised virtually everywhere,” she said, which has exponentially increased teens’ and adolescents’ exposure to e-cigarette ads. “The tiger has not changed its stripes.”
In addition to being widely advertised, the lack of regulation means the devices can be smoked almost anywhere as well. It has led to the “renormalization” of smoking behavior, said Vileta.
“Just think about taking your kids, nieces and nephews, grandkids into a restaurant or a public place, and someone can be sitting next to you smoking one of these. It’s just a weird thing to go back to. Kids today haven’t lived in a world where you could smoke everywhere, and we don’t need to go back to the smoking behavior of old,” Vileta said.
According to the Iowa Youth Survey of 2014, which polled sixth-, eighth- and 11th-grade students in public schools, reported that 7 percent of 11th graders in Johnson County had tried e-cigarettes in the last 30 days. Statewide, the figure rose to 11 percent.
Last week in North Liberty, one member of the public also advocated for the additional ban on e-cigarettes on behalf of future generations. North Liberty resident Katie Reasner said as an educator at a local nonprofit organization in Iowa City, she has seen first-hand the effects of marketing on young people, using flavors like Gummi Bears® to entice them.
“The number of youth who have tried these cigarettes from 2011 to 2014 has increased nine-fold. That’s huge,” said Reasner. “I encourage you to pass an ordinance (on e-cigarettes), not only because clean air is involved, but because of our youth.”
Iowa’s only e-cigarettes regulation is age-related; they can only be possessed by, used by and sold to people over age 18. A more comprehensive bill has been written, Beardsley said, but there has been no movement at the legislative level.
“It’s hard to get traction on tobacco issues right now,” he said. “The politics are real crazy. FDA regulation is pending, but we’ve been waiting for years and I don’t know if they are ever going to do anything.”
That’s why the Johnson County Board of Health and the health department conducted research, adopted a position statement and has been visiting cities, encouraging local governments to adopt policies and laws regulating e-cigarettes within their own boundaries. As a home-rule state, Iowa’s municipal laws can be more restrictive than state law.
Locally, Johnson County adopted a policy prohibiting e-cigarettes the same as tobacco on its public properties, as did the University of Iowa. The cities of Iowa City and Ames were among the first of Iowa’s communities to amend their ordinances banning e-cigarettes in public spaces. Because businesses can regulate them themselves if they want to have a higher standard than the Smokefree Air Act, the health department created resource materials and guidelines for businesses and organizations that wish to prohibit e-cigarettes indoors.
North Liberty is now on its way to implementing the health department’s suggestion. The council approved the first reading of the ordinance amendment 5-0, and asked to further include a rule banning smoking and vaporizing within 25 feet of entrances to buildings and spaces included in the Smokefree Air Act.
The new language will be added and returned to the council for the amendment’s second consideration at its March 22 meeting.