Electronic-cigarette users may soon find themselves vaping under the same rules as cigarette smokers in Iowa City.
At its meeting Tuesday, the Iowa City City Council will hold the first of three votes on whether to prohibit using e-cigarettes in places where it is currently illegal to smoke traditional cigarettes.
The council voted to ban e-cig use on city property in 2014 but decided not to go after more extensive regulations until more information was available.
The proposed ordinance was put on the council’s agenda after city staff received a letter advocating tighter e-cig restrictions from Johnson County Public Health, City Clerk Marian Karr said.
“I believe it was Doug Beardsley, director of Public Health, who wrote the letter,” Karr said. “He sent it directly to city staff and it was added to the agenda for the week.”
Beardsley spoke to The Daily Iowan in February about e-cig regulations in Iowa City.
“Ideally, we would like to see them treated the same as tobacco cigarettes in the future,” he told the DI at the time.
Despite being advertised as less harmful than their tobacco counterparts, e-cigs still pose a risk to users’ health, Beardsley said.
“These products still contain nicotine and particulate matter, just like traditional cigarettes,” he said.
Currently, indoor use of e-cigs is allowed in Iowa City except in buildings owned by Johnson County or the city.
The University of Iowa’s policy banning e-cigs from campus the same as regular tobacco products will go into effect on Aug. 24. The ban also includes chewing and smokeless tobacco, snuff, pipes, hookahs, bidis, and kreteks.
Some local business owners said they haven’t seen any problems related to e-cig use in their establishments.
Aaron Jennings, the owner of Micky’s Irish Pub, 11 S. Dubuque St, said his establishment doesn’t have a policy on e-cigs.
“It just hasn’t been a problem yet,” Jennings said. “If a customer were to complain about someone doing it inside, we would just ask the person using to go outside or stop.”
E-cigs may be a somewhat new technology, but the idea behind them is a page out of an old tobacco company playbook, City Councilor Rick Dobyns said.
“They know that it’s going to take several years to definitively come out and say: These things kill people,” Dobyns said. “In that time, they know they can get a good number of people addicted to these devices that deliver a large amount of nicotine to the system.”
Dobyns said that banning e-cigs from public spaces was looked into after prohibiting them in city and county buildings, but no action was taken at that time.
Beardsley told the DI in February that he believes action needs to be taken sooner rather then later.
“If we don’t do anything about this now, we’re going to find ourselves in the same boat as when smoking was allowed inside,” he said.