Should City Ban E-Cigarettes in Locations Where Smoking is Prohibited?

e-cigBack in March, the city council was presented with background information on electronic cigarettes (e-cigarettes) and hookah.  At that time, council directed city staff to return with an ordinance that would incorporate e-cigarettes into the city’s existing “no smoking” code.

All the ordinance does is treat e-cigarettes as they do other cigarettes which includes prohibitions on the use of e-cigarettes in locations where smoking is currently prohibited; require employers to incorporate e-cigarettes into their existing written employee smoking policies; limit sales of e-cigarettes, in a manner similar to tobacco products, to those 18 and over; and prohibit sales of e-cigarettes via vending machines or other self service.

According to the city staff report, “The proposed ordinance does not change locations where individuals can or cannot smoke; it simply adds e-cigarettes to the definition.”

“Since the March 11 City Council meeting, the Food and Drug Administration has issued a proposed rule that would extend the agency’s tobacco authority to cover additional products that meet the legal definition of a tobacco product, such as e-cigarettes; however, the devices still remain mostly unregulated,” staff notes. “As was noted in March several localities and organizations have enacted ordinances to regulate e-cigarettes, treating them like conventional cigarettes are treated.”

Staff has also sent a letter to “Davis restaurateurs and tobacco retailers outlining the direction from the March 11 meeting and explaining that the City Council will consider an ordinance to regulate use of e-cigarettes at the May 27 meeting. Staff has not received any feedback, positive or negative, from the outreach.”

The city has long had regulations which prohibit the use of cigarettes and smoking in public places. Staff notes that smoking here defined as “inhaling, exhaling, burning, or carrying any lighted cigarette, cigar, pipe, weed, plant or other combustible substance in any manner or in any form.”

E-cigarettes have become a recent trend that has gained popularity over the past five years, doubling in sales each year. They are battery-powered devices that mimic cigarettes by created a vaporized nicotine-laced liquid inhaled by the user. Staff notes, “The e-cigarette is meant to look and feel like a traditional cigarette, right down to a small light at the tip that lights up like a burning cigarette. In addition, e-cigarettes produce a vapor from a heating element that boils the liquid, hence the term ‘vaping.’”

Staff writes, “As the popularity of the devices grows, policy makers are faced with the question of whether e-cigarettes should be considered in the same ways as traditional cigarettes when it comes to use in public places.”

Staff notes that there are no conclusive studies on the effects of e-cigarettes. There are some studies that show that the vapor may be releasing harmful substances, but staff writes, “the trend is still too new to be able to cite longitudinal effects of direct usage and second-hand/third-hand inhalation.”

E-cigarettes have been marketed as a nicotine replacement product that smokers could use to help quit smoking altogether or purportedly to produce a healthier way to get the nicotine. Without tobacco, e-cigarettes, some concede, are less dangerous to the health.

But as one article notes, “Don’t be fooled into thinking that e-cigs are without risks or that you should now be able to vape to your heart’s content. Or that they’re plain healthy.”

Nicotine remains a habit-forming drug, with its own list of carcinogens like formaldehyde, nitrosamines, and lead.

One study argues that while toxicant levels are “9-450 times lower than in cigarette smoke,” “levels of formaldehyde and metals have been found to be comparable to or higher than those found in conventional cigarettes.”

The question here for the city is not overall health – but rather second-hand smoke. After all, electronic cigarettes do not burn, there is no smoke, and therefore no second-hand smoke.

However, as noted, the research here is preliminary and only limited data is available on their safety for both users and secondhand smokers. One study found that e-cigarettes “are not emission-free and their pollutants could be of health concern for users and secondhand smokers.” They conclude, “In view of consumer safety, e-cigarettes and nicotine liquids should be officially regulated and labeled with appropriate warnings of potential health effects, particularly of toxicity risk in children.”

The staff report notes, “Public policy is catching up the popularity of the cigarettes. Several states have passed laws to regulate/prohibit e-cigarettes in certain locations (Maryland, Oregon, etc.). Cities have banned the use of e-cigarettes in public places, including New York City, Chicago, San Francisco and Los Angeles. Other California cities have passed bans on e-cigarettes, too (Richmond, Carlsbad, Walnut Creek, etc.). San Diego is in the process of restricting usage.”

These policies cite concern about second-hand effects from the vapors, confusion about where smoking is allowed/prohibited since e-cigarettes and their vapor look like traditional cigarettes, concern that acceptance of e-cigarettes may increase the social acceptability of smoking particularly among minors and youth, and concern that the vapors violate smoke-free air laws, or the intent of the laws.

—David M. Greenwald reporting

About The Author

David Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

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  1. Tia Will

    “The question here for the city is not overall health – but rather second-hand smoke. After all, electronic cigarettes do not burn, there is no smoke, and therefore no second-hand smoke.”

    As you subsequently pointed out, the issue of lack of smoke is fallacious. True, there is no “smoke”. What there may be is exposure to chemicals that are just as injurious in the emitted vapor. What we know is that these chemical have been identified in the vapor from some brands. What has not yet been thoroughly tested is the effect on these chemicals on either primary or second hand inhalers. What we are seeing again is the promotion of a product as safe, just as was done in the 30’s and 40’s with cigarettes when we have no idea whether or not it is safer than cigarettes. What we do know is that these chemicals are not as safe as no inhalation of carcinogens and that the nicotine is just as addictive. Either way you look at this issue, these products should be regulated.

    If you see them as a risk reduction medical device to either minimize risk to the smoker or as an aide to smoking cessation, then they should be regulated as a medication would be and therefore should be under FDA regulation.

    If you see them as a recreational product, then they should be regulated in the same way as tobacco products, namely not marketed to children ( cinnamon, candy, pina colada flavors with representation of cute young girls and hip young guys using them ) and their use restricted by location exactly as are cigarettes.

    1. SODA

      Agree Tia, however disagree with the first quote realizing it isn’t yours. I think it IS a matter of overall health. For the smoker even IF there is no danger of second hand “smoke” or chemicals or whatever we don’t yet know……
      Nicotine is a drug with addicting and adverse effects. What was the next question……??

  2. Frankly

    It is going WAY too far.

    electronic cigarettes already contain a tiny, barely detectable fraction of the carcinogens
    found in tobacco cigarettes. They also have been shown not to contain any of the toxins in the amounts found
    in tobacco cigarettes and that they deliver very little nicotine in the vapor. So, given that the vapor already
    proves little, if any, danger to the actual user, any danger to bystanders by the exhaled vapor would be

    Additionally, tobacco cigarettes create “side stream smoke,” which is the smoke that comes directly from the
    end of a lit cigarette and the smoke lingers in the air and travels a fair distance from the smoker.
    Electronic cigarette vapor does not behave in the same manner as tobacco smoke. There is no vapor produced
    from the device, until the user activates it by inhaling, so no “side stream vapor” is created and the vapor
    dissipates very quickly. In the event that a bystander would pass through the vapor, since it doesn’t contain
    the irritating toxins of tobacco smoke, it would likely be barely detectable

    How about perfumes and colognes? Should we ban those too?

    We need to draw the line when there are clear and present health dangers to others. But if someone wants to suck on a e cigarette in a restaurant, I say let them… the amount of second-and health danger is so miniscule to non-existent that if we are going to do this we should also start banning breathing in restaurants… as the breath of some people can be more harmful to our health.

    1. Alan Miller

      Frank Lee, must dis-a-gree, to a point. I speak as one who in my youth thought there should be no smoking areas in restaurants. As an adult I much appreciate that smoking is banned in work situations. However, I am appalled by how far this has gone, with institutions such as bars unable to allow smoking when that is a choice, even for employees to work there, and that restaurants cannot even have a smoking area that is positively ventilated. The UC smoking ban is positively stupid and unenforceable, as stupid as the 55mph speed limit or bicycles stopping at stop signs (yes, bicycles must yield the right-of-way, but a law requiring stopping when there is no traffic is stupid.) HOWEVER, I was recently in an enclosed space and a group asked if they could vape. The person in charge said yes, and the space was soon filled with a musty-sweet odor. I have no idea what the health effects are, and most certainly I would not want someone vaping in a restaurant as the odor would befoul the dinner. They could of course go in the smoking section of the restaurant to vape. Oh . . . . . . . . . maybe not.

      1. Frankly

        I have been around people vaping and there wasn’t any greater strength of sent than I might experience in the lobby of the Mondovi Center before a concert… but it would be perfume and cologne and not vapor.

        Certainly in an enclosed space with a high number of people producing vapor there might be an overwhelming strong smell.

        The entire idea with vapor devices is to eliminate smoke and the carcinogens present in tobacco products. Maybe the devices and their contents need to be regulated to certified to use indoors. For example, with recreation vehicles there is a red-stamp and a green-stamp based on emissions standards. Some areas you can only ride a green-stamp vehicle and will be fined if found riding an uncertified or red-stamp vehicle. Maybe only certified vapor devices with certified contents can be allowed to be used indoors.

        I smoke a cigar in my back yard every now and then. I am sure those days are numbered as obsessed liberals will eventually try to ban that too. They never stop… continually marching from the last destruction of personal freedom to the next.

        So from that perspective alone I say let them vape in public. Then liberals can stay focused on that obsession for a longer period of time.

    2. Tia Will


      What is your stand on public sexual activity ? I only ask because you have stated that you believe that this is going too far in restricting individual rights. As a gynecologist, I view human sexual activity as a completely normal biologic function just as eating and drinking are. We do those all the time in public places. Consensual public sexual activity poses no, zero, zip physical harm to anyone else, and yet as a society we have agreed to not allow it.

      Here we have an activity that we are not sure whether or not there is not danger of second hand exposure. We don’t know because it has not been widely studied. For many years tobacco companies, even after they knew the carcinogenic risks were touting their product as safe. The reality here is that we do not know. Since they do produce a discernible odor, i think it is safe to say that one is inhaling particles that would not be in the air save for this activity. I would prefer that we not wait for the studies that may very well determine that there is harm.
      My position does not limit any adult from engaging in this activity if they want to. It only prevents them from engaging in the activity in public. Just as we do with sexual activities.

        1. South of Davis

          Tia wrote:

          > As a gynecologist, I view human sexual activity as a completely normal
          > biologic function just as eating and drinking are…yet as a society we
          > have agreed to not allow it.

          As TBD said, the “entire” society has not banned it (you can Google Folsom Street Fair Photos or Burning Man Sex Photos if you don’t believe us).

          P.S. You might want to wait until you are home and not do the Google searches above on a shared computer at work…

      1. Frankly

        “Public sexual activity”? You mean sex out in public for all to see?

        No, I am not in favor of that for a number of reasons.

        But I am no sexual prude. I don’t care at all what two consenting adults do in private. I don’t even care what three or more consenting adults do in private. I absolutely don’t want to see any of it taking place in private (unless I purposely choose to do so).

        But bravo coming up with an interesting moral equivalency argument.

        I guess you could make the point that my offense having to see two people having sex in public would be equivalent to your offense having to smell someone’s e-cigarette in public. Maybe as a doctor your view on human sexuality is more a standard human function like urinating or flatulence. Not being as evolved us you on this subject, I tend to view human sexuality as something with more meaning, more mystery, more emotional implications… basically something that should be connected with love or at least a very strong attraction… and something that should remain elevated above “just a bodily function”. Also there is cleanliness and common human decency to consider.

        But I suppose if you want to put vapor device smoking in the same category as sex, that is up to you. I don’t.

        1. Tia Will


          I was asking because in most situations you have stressed that you feel only
          “material harm” counts in your view and that those whose “feelings” are hurt should
          just “toughen up”.

          I do not personally equate having sex with smoking or vaping.
          Having sex as no “material harm” for anyone other than the direct participants.
          Smoking has proven material risk for non participants.
          Vaping has not been demonstrated safe for non participants, just as second hand smoke had not been demonstrated unsafe in the 40’s and 50’s.
          I am not equating them in any other way. Just the way that you frequently claim is the only one that matters to you, namely “material harm”.

          1. Frankly

            You are appealing to my sense of logic and fair play here Tia. Good work.

            Vaping has not been demonstrated safe for non participants

            But it also has not been proven harmful for non participants.

            So, with respect to material harm I am not there yet. To me it just seems like over-reaction… one person telling another person how to live their life based on some unfounded fears or sense of entitlement.

            You do know that vapor is missing all the known carcinogens that cigarette smoke contains, right?

          2. Tia Will

            The vapor is missing all the known carcinogens that are directly associated with the burning of tobacco. That is not the same thing as saying that the vapor is carcinogen free. Carcinogens have been identified in the emissions of some e cigarettes. Their safety has not been demonstrated.

            What has been demonstrated is the increase in use of e cigarettes amongst teens who are being led to believe that these products are safe when, in fact, we do not know this.
            The very line frequently used by the proponents of these devices is “harm reduction”. Please note that they do not say “harm elimination”. We know that addiction is not safe. We know that nicotine is highly addictive. The manufacturers of these products are banking on the addictive nature of their product. Thus “harm reduction” not “harm elimination”.
            For adults, I would say fair enough, your choice. But adults are not the target population. Kids are the targeted population in their advertising. Maintaining smoking/vaping as an acceptable public activity is critical to the manufacturers maintaining their profitability regardless of harm.

          3. Tia Will


            I’m going to have one more go at the “material harm” aspect of e cigarettes. Addiction is in and of itself harmful. It distracts the addicted individual from activities that would be beneficial to them and uses up material resources ( money ) that could be put to healthful and productive uses. Now for an adult to make this decision on how to use their resources we agree is up to them.

            But lets consider the other fact that is also known. Of those who become addicted to nicotine ( a component of e cigarettes) almost all of them start using these products prior to age 18.
            This is the reason that so much of the advertising is targeted at youth. The manufacturers of both traditional cigarettes and e cigarettes ( frequently the same companies) specifically target the high school age and younger population. Having “gummy bear” and other candy flavors is clearly and intentionally targeted to children.

            Unfortunately, they are being successful in recruiting youth since the rate of teens using e cigarettes has doubled within the past few years. These kids may not be exposing themselves to the same carcinogenic profile as they would be by smoking tobacco cigarettes, but they are subjecting themselves to a major addictive product, nicotine, which will ultimately lead to very real material harm for those who become hooked as nicotine has proven to be one of the hardest additions to break.

  3. Scheney

    E-cigarettes are banned on the UC campus. Here’s my experience with users in town as described in an email I sent to one City Council member several weeks ago:

    “Lewis and I went to the farmer’s market. A group of young adults sat right in front of us and then added more and more people forcing us to move our chairs back more than once. The park was very crowded. Finally, one of their group pulled out a pipe that he filled with a liquid and started smoking it. he would exhale a large cloud of smoke over and over which would hang in the warm, humid air and slowly drift over us. He was asked to not smoke at one point by Randii McNear. We waited while he smoked two refills. When he moved to fill back up a third time, Lewis had had enough and asked him to stop. The guy was very argumentative and the conversation got quite heated. He basically stated that because the City Council had not included this behavior in the ordinance, he was free to smoke away. Randii again asked him to stop. He specifically said that he didn’t have to stop, even if it was annoying people. And he did just that – blowing large clouds of smoke in the air. So…..we can’t rely on pure manners when it comes to use of e-cigarettes. The City Council by not taking action has effectively endorsed unlimited use of this product, whenever and wherever the users please. The University has banned e-cigarettes. Why can’t the City?”

    I was ambivalent about e-cigarettes until this experience. I now support the inclusion of them in the ordinance.

    1. Frankly

      He did not “blow large clouds of smoke in the air” unless he was burning something in that pipe. But I agree that we might need to ban the use of these devices if there are too many jerks like that guy.

      1. Tia Will

        This is such a great illustration of how the lack of even reasonable regard for the well being and preferences of others leads to support for regulation. No misbehavior, no regulation.

  4. Pingback: Should City Ban E-Cigarettes in Locations Where Smoking is Prohibited? | The Spinfuel Network

  5. Good Government

    I happen to know a lot of e-cig users. I know plenty of cigarette smokers who use them now and report dramatic health improvement compared to when they were smoking regular cigarettes. These folks wouldn’t smoke e-cigs if they couldn’t find liquid with nicotine, since that is what they are addicted to. They feel better, smell better, and are very happy that they have this alternative. For them, this technology should be celebrated.

    I also know plenty of people who never really smoked cigarettes, but maybe smoked hookah on occasion. They don’t even need the nicotine, but enjoy the flavor and the act itself of “vaping”.

    And I also know folks who put liquid “hash oil” in these e-cigs and use them to get high in public. It’s almost impossible to tell from appearance or smell what is in them. It will be very hard to regulate that use.

    I agree they should be treated as tobacco products for the purposes of where they can be used. Some folks say that if they are regulated like cigarettes, it removes some of the incentive for existing cigarette smokers to choose this alternative. I don’t really buy that, and I think the health outcomes are incentive enough.

    I draw the line, however, at saying they shouldn’t be able to have pleasant flavors like cinnamon or pina colada. Adults like those flavors, too. Youths under 18 shouldn’t be allowed to buy them (assuming that is not already the case), and they should ascribe to the same marketing regulations as alcohol and tobacco with regard to targeting youth.

  6. Barack Palin

    E Cigarette smoke, why isn’t the meddlesome NRC all over this? This sounds like something that would be right in their wheelhouse, we need them to protect us all.

          1. Barack Palin

            Even though they do things that aren’t meaningful they can still be a pain in the butt.

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