Don’t be surprised if alongside the no smoking signs on country-owned property there are new ones alerting people that “vaping” is not allowed.
The growing popularity of electronic cigarettes, also known as e-cigs, has not gone unnoticed by Albany County Executive Dan McCoy, who signed an executive order Thursday, Feb. 6, banning the use of the devices to match restrictions placed on tobacco smoking on county property.
“The problem is now more and more kids are starting to smoke them, and (it) is not FDA approved,” McCoy said. “They are seeing more and more people smoking them in buildings, and kids think it is a cool thing. … It’s not cool.”
The devices are battery powered, often resembling the size and look of a cigarette, and simulate smoking through heating a liquid solution containing nicotine. Most e-cigs work by the user inhaling on the device, like a traditional cigarette, and a nicotine-laced vapor is released.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration is seeking to extend its reach to regulate the devices through its authority over tobacco products. The FDA could regulate e-cigarettes if a company markets its devices for “therapeutic purposes.”
County officials claimed e-cigarettes can be purchased “without proof of age” however, state law actually prohibits the sale of the device to anyone under 18 years old. That law took effect Jan. 1, 2013.
The devices can often be purchased where cigarettes are sold or through websites.
McCoy said tobacco companies are relying on e-cigs to boost profits, with the health implications of smoking cigarettes widely known and sales declining. He said it is “another niche” for the industry to make money.
“To me, it’s not about making money … it is about the health and welfare of the citizens we represent here in Albany County,” McCoy said. “People should be able to come here and do business, come to work and not worry about that.”
County Legislator Gary Domalewicz, D-Albany, applauded McCoy’s e-cig regulations, adding that little are known about the devices and how harmful they could be.
Fellow Legislator Tim Nichols, D-Latham, said the ban is a “good first step.” He also pointed to how e-cigs are being marketed, such as through celebrity endorsements and making them seem “hip.”
“If you look at the way they market and advertise e-cigarettes, it’s just the same exact way that the tobacco industry used to market regular cigarettes 20, 30, 40 years,” Nichols said. “Now, with e-cigarettes, they have a whole new clean slate to promote a product that I think will lead to kids smoking e-cigarettes and then moving to real cigarettes.”
Judy Rightmyer, director of the Capital District Tobacco-Free Coalition, agreed e-cigs are a gateway to traditional cigarettes.
“E-cigarettes can serve as a gateway for youth to become addicted to nicotine and then graduate to regular cigarette use,” Rightmyer said. “We don’t need to introduce a new generation of smokers to tobacco-related disease and a premature death.”
County Legislator Mary Lou Connolly, D-Guilderland, said “careless people” have resulted in children getting a hold of the device, and at least one child has died.
“About 14 years ago, I was the one that got cigarettes behind the counters … so the youth of our community could not pilfer them,” Connolly said. “I am very fortunate I never smoked, but this e-cig, it is phony. … It is a crutch, and it’s one of the hardest things in the world to give up.”
Several county officials and advocates said the health effects of secondhand vapor could be harmful, but no research was presented or cited for possible health effects. Many speakers cited the lack of information as the problem and cause for the ban.
Jeff Seyler, president of the American Lung Association of the Northeast, said the ban places “public health first” through stopping “potentially unsafe secondhand emissions.”
Professor Igor Burstyn, of the Department of Environmental and Occupational Health at Drexel University, issued a technical report on the chemistry of contaminants in electronic cigarettes in the summer of 2013. The Consumer Advocates for Smoke?free Alternatives Association funded his work.
Burstyn concluded secondhand exposure from e-cigs was not a health risk.
“Even when compared to workplace standards for involuntary exposures, and using several conservative assumptions, the exposures from using e-cigarettes fall well below the threshold for concern for compounds with known toxicity,” Burstyn wrote in the report. “The exposures would not generate concern or call for remedial action.”
McCoy said he had not read Burstyn’s study, so he could not comment directly about it. He did say even the smallest of health risk was reason enough for the ban.
“Even if it is a little bit of exposure, we just want to protect people,” McCoy said. “Do you want to be at the Times Union Center watching a show and someone is blowing an e-cigarette on you? Even if there is a one and one million chance of you getting anything from that, why?”