NEWS-SENTINEL EDITORIAL: Let FDA set regulations before we ban e-cigarettes from public places

Columbus has become the latest Indiana community to ban the use of electronic cigarettes in most public places, including bars and restaurants, adding the measure to their current smoking ban and prohibiting the use of any oral smoking devices to circumvent the restrictions.

The Columbus Republic reported City Council members will not make the ban effective until mid-October so they can add an exemption for vape shops who argue they would be forced out of business if included in the ban.

Previously, Indianapolis, South Bend, Carmel and Greenwood also included e-cigarettes in their local smoking restrictions. Greenwood banned vaping in workplaces but exempted bars and restaurants.

However, Fort Wayne City Councilman Dr. John Crawford, who championed efforts to pass the local smoking ordinance in 2007, told News-Sentinel.com he doesn’t think the issue of e-cigarettes should come before City Council at this time.

“I wouldn’t be ready to do it,” he said of the possibility of passing such a ban in Fort Wayne. “It’s dangerous to react too soon.”

The fervor of opposition to e-cigarettes has been growing lately in light of recent reports of lung disease in Indiana and surrounding states linked to vaping.

After Wisconsin and Illinois health officials confirmed cases of vaping-related lung disease among teens and young adults earlier this month, the Indiana Department of Health issued an advisory to state hospitals, health care providers and the Allen County Board of Health, asking them to report “as soon as possible” any young patients with a history of vaping who unexpectedly developed severe respiratory illnesses.

Sure enough, health officials were soon reporting 11 Indiana residents with a history of vaping were stricken with severe respiratory illnesses.

Nancy Cripe, executive director of Tobacco Free Allen County, told News-Sentinel.com in an email this week, “The city ordinance, like the state law, should be updated to include vaping.”

Cripe says there are very real risks with secondhand vaping aerosol exposure as there are with secondhand smoke from cigarettes. “They contain heavy metals, formaldehyde, acrolein, and many of the same cancer-causing chemicals that are in tobacco smoke,” she said.

She was in Minneapolis at the National Conference on Tobacco or Health this week where she said she was learning more about vaping devices and their risks.

While e-cigarettes have the potential to benefit adult smokers as a substitute for regular cigarettes and other smoked tobacco products, the Centers for Disease Control has warned, “They are not safe for youth, young adults, pregnant women or adults who do not currently use tobacco products.”

News-Sentinel.com has come out against permitting vaping for youth, supporting the Tobacco to 21 Act that would raise the federal minimum age to buy tobacco products, including e-cigarettes and cigars, from 18 to 21.

However, we join with Dr. Crawford in using caution in reacting to the concerns about vaping for the general public due to the lack of federal regulations for the wide variety of products on the market.

Crawford pointed out that it took years to figure out the dangers of secondhand smoke from regular cigarettes. Data even changed in those studies, he said, before it was determined the smoking of tobacco in public places should be restricted.

The result was a Crawford campaign and an eventual Fort Wayne ordinance a dozen years ago that prohibits smoking inside public buildings and within 20 feet of the entrance of public buildings.

But for e-cigarettes, Crawford thinks it’s too early for such a blanket ban. “Data is not real good,” he said. “There is a jumble of information,” he added, saying he doesn’t think we know enough yet, which is why it’s good Cripe and others are seeking to learn more about what vaping is all about.

Crawford argues that because vaping products are not standardized, people don’t even know what they are using.

Before banning use of the products from public places, he suggests calling for regulations on what’s in them. Currently, we don’t know what they all contain and Crawford says users even create their own “home brews.”

“They may be vaping who knows what,” Crawford said. The issue needs to go to the FDA, he said, but not to City Council — at least not yet.

We agree.