Despite objections, e-cig rules advance

Despite objections, e-cig rules advance

The effort to crack down on electronic smoking devices is heading to the Watertown Common Council for review.

But not everyone was happy with an idea, particularly businesses that are affected.

The Watertown Public Safety and Welfare Committee recommended the approval of ordinances to prohibit the use of electronic smoking devices everywhere that tobacco smoking is currently forbidden by state law and that people must be 18 or older to purchase, use or possess electronic smoking devices in the city.

Alderman Rick Tortomasi, member of the Watertown Board of Health, began the meeting on Wednesday by saying e-cigarettes were developed to help people stop smoking. However e-cigarettes are not currently approved by the FDA as a quit smoking aid, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Papers were passed out to committee members with information from national and state organizations.

"While e-cigarettes have the potential to benefit some people and harm others, scientists still have a lot to learn about whether e-cigarettes are effective for quitting smoking," according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

"People who use e-cigarettes have a greater risk of health issues than plain cigarettes," Tortomasi said. "There is more nicotine in an e-cigarette, equal to about a pack of cigarettes."

A survey was done in 2017-18 in three counties covered by the Tobacco Free Community Partnership of Dodge, Jefferson, Waukesha as part of the Wisconsin Retail Assessment Project. It was found that 50% of retailers surveyed in Dodge County and 73% of retailers surveyed in Jefferson County sold e-cigarettes, while 63% of retailers surveyed sold in Wisconsin.

Tortomasi said minors are using it in the area and Police Chief Robert Kaminski of the Watertown Police Department confirmed that students from middle school and high school have been caught using these devices.

The Wisconsin Department of Health states that current e-cigarette use among high school students increased 154% between 2014 and 2018. In 2014, under 8% of high school students were using e-cigarettes.

Andrea Turke, a board of health member, a member of Get Healthy Watertown and a nurse said e-cigarettes' aerosol can contain substances such as nicotine, lead and nickel.

"It's got a chemical that gives it the flavor and that chemical has been found to leave little hard particles in your lung sacks," she said.

Turke added that people, including youths, can purchase electronic smoking devices on Amazon.

"I tried. They didn't ask if I was 18 or not," she said.

Chairman Tim Raether read a letter from Superintendent of Schools Cassandra Schug voicing her support for amending the ordinances.

"In our schools, we have a concern for our students under the age of 18 who are currently able to purchase, possess and smoke e-cigarettes," she said. "E-cigarettes pose significant dangers to our youths and are additionally being marketed to our young students."

Mayor Emily McFarland said her primary concern was to limit the use of electronic smoking among the youths.

"I'm hopeful that we can move this piece along," she said.

While it appeared to be a collective agreement to limit the access of electronic smoking devices to minors, not everyone at the meeting agreed to the ordinance that prohibits the use of electronic smoking to areas everywhere that tobacco smoking is currently forbidden by state law.

Alderman Kurt Larsen opposed this ordinance and said there is not enough data on secondhand smoke of electronic smoking devices, adding that they don't know if it is more harmful than smell of a candle burning.

He said the ordinance hits individuals and businesses at a personal level.

"Changing an ordinance to restrict behaviors are one of the bigger things we do," he said. "Nobody cares if we buy a dump truck or put a sign at the edge of town but when we start talking about banning behaviors of the public, we need to slow down and take a look at it."

Troy Barnett of the American Lung Association and the Tobacco Free Community Partnership of Dodge, Jefferson, Waukesha said it is not just water vapor that is being exhaled.

"Those are fine particles of very questionable substances, including metals and other things used in the vape products that are now a mist settling on surfaces," she said.

Members of the Jefferson County Tavern League attended the meeting and said businesses should decide whether to prohibit it. 

"It's our business, not the government's business," Lori Frommgen said.

"State law prohibits smoking in childcare centers, educational facilities, health care facilities, restaurants, taverns, private clubs, retail establishments, hotels, local government buildings, public vehicles, and all other enclosed public and employment places," according to a news release from the city. "State law also authorized municipalities to prohibit smoking in other areas under their jurisdiction 'to protect the health and comfort of the public.'"

Despite the disagreements on the ordinance, it was passed by the committee unanimously.

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