By Robbie Ward
TUPELO – The City Council seems ready to kick the vaping habit this week, likely banning public use of electronic cigarettes.
A city council member has convinced at least three others to expand Tupelo’s smoking ban to include e-cigarettes, a product marketed as a safer alternative to tobacco cigarettes.
Instead of lighting up traditional cigarettes, battery-operated electronic products deliver less nicotine, but more flavor and other chemicals to users. Officials say the practice releases vapors filled with detectable levels of chemicals such as formaldehyde found in traditional cigarettes.
Councilman Buddy Palmer of Ward 5 seems to have succeeded in lining up enough votes for Tuesday’s meeting to ban e-cigarettes in public, which includes restaurants and other workplaces, including local businesses selling the products.
The council agreed last week to postpone discussion of banning e-cigarettes in public after two council members – Nettie Davis of Ward 4 and Willie Jennings of Ward 7 – wanted more information prior to voting.
Researchers have limited studies showing health impact of e-cigarettes, invented in 2003 in China. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration currently does not regulate their sale to children. However, the federal regulatory agency may soon adopt the same standards that regular tobacco products require for sale and distribution, including health warnings on packages.
Palmer, an occasional cigar smoker, sees no reason to postpone enforcing limits for e-cigarette users in public places. E-cigarettes create small amounts of carcinogens and other toxic chemicals and emit a scented mist noticeable to others by smell and sight.
“I don’t think they have right to go to public places and put out a vapor,” Palmer said. “I find it very offensive.”
Tupelo’s inclusion of e-cigarettes to the smoking ban ordinance would prohibit using the electronic nicotine devices at least 25 feet from a building entrance and 10 feet from an exit where smoking is banned.
Adoption of the public ban would make Tupelo the 37th Mississippi municipality to limit areas available to use e-cigarettes.Nationwide, 188 local governments already banned the practice in indoor public locations, while New Jersey and North Dakota have similar prohibitions statewide.
While not legal in Mississippi, the electronic devices can be manipulated to include other chemicals, including THC, the chemical found in marijuana.
Other City Council members who voiced support to the Daily Journal for voting Tuesday to ban e-cigarettes in public include Markel Whittington of Ward 1, Lynn Bryan of Ward 2 and Mike Bryan of Ward 6, who proposed the ban a few months ago.
Jennings said Friday he’ll decide whether to support or oppose the issue Tuesday, when the council meets at 6 p.m.
Davis, however, said the council shouldn’t expect her support to banning e-cigarettes this week.
“I’m not supportive of banning it right now,” she said. “I feel like I need a little more investigation before I decide for myself.”
Local business owners who sell e-cigarettes have recently pleaded with council members to resist temptations to ban their products, saying they do not sell to minors and only use e-cigarette ingredients made in the United States.
Council President Mike Bryan said if the ban passes, the council could decide afterward whether to exempt usage in places selling e-cigs. Locally, specialty shops, some convenience stores and other businesses sell the products.
Councilman Jim Newell of Ward 3, director of Itawamba Community College’s respiratory care technology program, resigned Friday and won’t vote.
Mayor Jason Shelton objects to the council amending the city’s smoking ordinance without more research available on e-cigarettes’ health impact and other negative associations such as encouraging children to addictive use of nicotine.
“To me, taking away a freedom requires in-depth discussion and study,” he said Friday. “We need to look at repealing laws instead of adding new ones.”
Shelton vowed not to veto the change to the smoking ban, if approved by the council.
CORRECTION: A previous version of this story incorrectly quoted Tupelo Mayor Jason Shelton’s position on city laws. He wants to look at repealing them, not “appealing” them, which makes no sense. However, he did find appealing the concept of accurately quoting him.
Draft amendment to Tupelo’s existing smoking ban