The Watertown Board of Health wants to get tough against electronic smoking devices.

The board is recommending the city prohibit the use of electronic smoking devices everywhere that tobacco smoking is currently forbidden by state law and increase the fine from $25 to $50 per violation.

The board is also recommending residents be 18 or older to buy, use or possess electronic smoking devices in the city, which is consistent with the legal age to purchase and use tobacco products.

"My focus with this topic is on our youth. One in five Wisconsin high schoolers use e-cigarettes and one in nine middle schoolers have tried e-cigarettes," Mayor Emily McFarland said. "If I can do anything to slow that growth, I will try."

The board's proposal is now before the city's public safety and welfare committee. The meeting will be held Wednesday at 6 p.m. at the municipal building on the second floor.

"This is an important public health issue that intersects with private property rights, so I want to be very mindful about this," McFarland said. "I want Watertown to be a healthy city, but I'd also like to hear from residents and business owners on this issue. My preference with this important public health topic is a bit more incremental than what the health board is suggesting, but I am pleased and thankful that they took on this critical topic."

State law prohibits smoking in areas such as childcare centers, educational facilities, health care facilities, restaurants and all other enclosed public and employment places. State law also authorized municipalities to prohibit smoking in other areas under their jurisdiction "to protect the health and comfort of the public."

The board's proposal defines "electronic smoking device" to mean any electronic device that can be used to deliver an inhaled dose of nicotine or any other substance intended for human consumption that may be used by a person to simulate smoking through inhalation of vapor or aerosol from the product. It includes an electronic cigarette, commonly known as e-cigarettes; an electronic cigar; an electronic cigarillo; an electronic pipe; an electronic hookah and vape pens. E-smoking is often referred to informally as vaping or JUULing.

"The most concerning aspect of e-cigarettes to me is that they were originally used as a way to help smokers quit tobacco use, but now they largely serve as a gateway to tobacco for teens," said health board Chairwoman Dr. Donene Rowe, a local family physician.

"The e-cigarette 'juice' is unregulated and several products that claim to be free of nicotine have been found to contain this highly addictive chemical," said Dr. Rowe. "In addition, the aerosols inhaled by users may contain toxic metals, including lead, as well as other chemicals that can break down into carcinogenic compounds."

Secondhand tobacco smoke, released from the burning of a cigarette and the smoke exhaled raises a nonsmoker's risk of many diseases, including lung cancer, other cancers, respiratory diseases, eye and nose problems, heart disease and stroke.

The health effects of secondhand vapors from e-cigarettes and their users are still being studied and evaluated, but some studies have found that e-cigarette vapors can contain nicotine, heavy metal contaminants, and other health hazards.

"More studies are identifying health concerns with secondhand e-cigarette vapors," said City Health Officer Carol Quest. "It's time for us to take action to stop secondhand exposures."

A public health advisory from the Wisconsin Department of Health highlights "the alarming statistics on current e-cigarette use among youth in Wisconsin." The advisory states that "the e-cigarette aerosol that users inhale-and-exhale can expose both the user and those around the user to other harmful substances."

The department states that in Wisconsin, 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.

"Vaping is a community health issue for me because so many kids are using these devices and the amount of nicotine in each e-liquid cartridge can be very high," said health board member Andrea Turke, who is also a nurse. "There are lots of advertisements for vaping supplies aimed at young people, with smoke flavor names like bubble gum and grape, and this activity could cause serious health problems for them in the near future and beyond."

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