Mayor Rahm Emanuel has been working hard to ban e-cigarettes in Chicago, but it appears that his plans have failed. While Emanuel wanted to outlaw e-cig use in places where tobacco is banned, it didn’t work. Instead, there was a surprisingly large outpouring of public support for e-cigs and the vapers won this round of the battle.
While Emanuel hoped to regulate e-cigarettes as tobacco products, the outpouring of opposition managed to derail those plans. Instead, the City Council voted to ban the sales of tobacco products within 500 feet of Chicago schools, increasing it to five times the previous distance.
If the e-cig ban had passed, it would have sentenced electronic cigarettes to a life hidden behind counters in retail stores with adults prohibited from vaping in any public place in the city. So what was the argument that saved e-cigarettes? It boiled down the vapor. Aldermen began to question whether e-cig vapor was really dangerous. Would it really be any more dangerous for Chicago’s citizens to be exposed to e-cig vapors than to be near steam from a pot of boiling water? The aldermen also debated about how a ban would impact the city’s smokers. Many argued that it would discourage smokers from switching to e-cigarettes and result in higher tobacco use.
Alderman Leslie Hairston argued that a ban was completely unreasonable. “We’re punishing a group of people for trying not to smoke. You can’t have it both ways. You can’t on one day say, ‘We’re going to tax the heck out of cigarette,’ then the next day (say), ‘For those of you who can’t afford it and decide you want to smoke vapor, we’re going to decide you can’t do that, either.”
She went on to point out that there is no scientific evidence that e-cig vapor is dangerous. “There is no proof that water vapor in the air does anything. If that is the case, humidifiers are gone. And boiling water is gone in restaurants.”
In order to show other council members a closer look at e-cigs, Alderman Brendan Reilly took a puff on his e-cig during the meeting. He told the council that he had recently bought some e-cigs to try to stop smoking. As he demonstrated how the e-cig worked, he shared his concerns. “Where this kind of crosses the line for me is where we start talking about including the device as if it is a tobacco product. Many smokers are actually using these devices or devices like them as part of their cessation program.”
Alderman Joe Moreno agreed with Reilly, saying, “We’re trying to protect a set of people (who) don’t need protection. I don’t see why we need to protect people from something I can (create) when I make my tea in the morning. I have no problem with my 10-year-old daughter being in the kitchen when that happens.”
Another big concern was the taxation tied to cigarettes and how changing the classification of e-cigs would impact the public. Alderman Ray Suarez pointed out that the proposed tax increase on cigarettes would encourage people to stop smoking, but by banning e-cigs, it would go against the initiatives the city was already starting. “At what point do we stop regulating peoples’ lives and making the excuse of safety when we have no documentation to prove this is even a safety hazard?” he said.
For now, the e-cig ban is not going to happen in Chicago. This is a big victory for electronic cigarettes and we sincerely hope that more stories like this come to light in the future. Do you think Chicago’s decision will encourage other cities to avoid banning e-cigs?