Electronic cigarettes are hailed as a safe alternative to smoking, but Prince George’s County officials are skeptical retailers aren’t just blowing smoke on the potential long-term effects and are proposing a ban on the devices.
“Many of the [electronic cigarette] side effects have not been proven, just like when we first had tobacco, it was unknown because it was a new fad,” said County Councilwoman Ingrid M. Turner (Dist. 4) of Bowie. “The parts that are unknown are what are the exact side effects.”
Electronic cigarettes, or “e-cigs,” are battery-powered devices that deliver doses of nicotine when a user inhales or “smokes” them.
Turner is the driving force behind a bill, CB-91-2013, proposed Oct. 15 that would ban people from “smoking” the devices inside of restaurants and bars as well as public and senior housing units. The county prohibits smoking traditional cigarettes in those areas.
Turner said she noticed people using the devices inside restaurants about six months ago and has received many complaints from residents concerned about potential health risks to non-users in the same vicinity.
Makers of the devices claim their products are harmless to the user and produce no harmful secondhand smoke.
“All the ingredients we use are all FDA approved and approved for manufacturing,” said Robert Burton, director of corporate and regulatory affairs at White Cloud Electronic Cigarettes, a Florida-based electronic cigarette maker.
The devices use only three ingredients: pure nicotine, propylene glycol or vegetable glycerin and some kind of flavoring, such as tobacco flavor or menthol, Burton said.
“It’s very short sighted for people to be banning these products...Generally the science generates there’s nothing that’s harmful in the vapor to people in the vicinity [of a user],” Burton said.
Over the past several years, the electronic cigarette industry has boomed, according to reports by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which is urging more research on the health effects of the devices.
Some restaurants in Prince George’s have already banned electronic cigarette use.
Raj Vig, manager of the Warehouse Bar and Grill in Fort Washington, said he doesn’t let customers use them inside or outside. Electronic cigarette users, like traditional smokers, must be 25 yards from the building.
“We don’t allow any kind of cigarette in our bar,” Vig said.
But not all residents think electronic cigarettes should be treated the same as conventional ones.
“They don’t have an odor, from what I understand. I wouldn’t be upset if someone was smoking an electronic cigarette inside of a restaurant,” said Cindy Manley, 53, of Bowie, who doesn’t smoke.
The FDA can regulate nicotine devices that claim to have “therapeutic effects,” but not electronic cigarette makers that market their devices as an alternative way to continue smoking, said FDA spokesperson Jennifer Haliski.
“We need a lot more information about the potential risks and also the potential benefits of all these new types of products on the market,” Haliski said. “Having authority over them is the first step in being able to do that.”