Chicago is on its way to becoming the first major U.S. city to ban electronic cigarette use in public and to place other regulations on the product.
In December, the city council will vote on a proposal to amend and expand a current tobacco ordinance. Backed by Mayor Rahm Emanuel and aldermen Will Burns and Ed Burke, this measure would ban the sale of e-cigarettes to minors, require retailers to gain a license to sell e-cigarette products, force them to sell these products behind the counter, and – despite the fact that e-cigarettes contain no tobacco – apply the same public prohibitions to them as tobacco products. The Chicago Sun-Times explains that this means “adults would be prohibited from that smoking e-cigarettes in virtually all of indoor Chicago except private homes and vehicles, hotel rooms designated for smoking and at least 10 feet away from building entrances.” If it passes, the ordinance will take effect in January 2014.
All of this, city officials assure, is aimed at protecting children. Chicago Health Commissioner Dr. Bechara Choucair told the Sun-Times that it's not enough that “we’ve seen a decrease [in youth smoking], then a plateau. We really need to break that plateau.” Choucair hopes to stamp out youth use of both cigarettes and e-cigarettes.
Erika Sward, vice president of the American Lung Association, voiced approval for Chicago's planned ban, saying, "We don't want to have people now exposed to e-cigarette second-hand emissions until we know more about them."
But can government officials actually convince people to stop smoking cigarettes while also preventing them from utilizing alternatives? Reason's Jacob Sullum has extensively covered e-cigarette issues and has noted that e-cigarettes are not a gateway to tobacco use, rather, “because e-cigarettes more closely simulate the experience of smoking than nicotine gum, patches, or inhalers do, they may be more effective in helping smokers quit.” Likewise, addressing concerns about safety, he has pointed out that “the health hazards of vaping pale beside those of smoking,” so the decrease in tobacco use that has coincided with the rise of e-cigarette use in young people “might signal successful harm reduction.”
ReasonTV's Tracy Oppenheimer addressed a number of e-cigarette issues in the video below: