GREENFIELD — Electronic-cigarette users say they will continue their fight against a ban of the devices in public places, even though their effort Tuesday before the Hancock County Health Board was to no avail.
County officials decided in February that e-cigarettes should be considered like any other cigarette or cigar and banned in public places such as restaurants and stores.
But a social media campaign and petition drive brought about 15 protesters of the ban to the health board Tuesday. After about 30 minutes of discussion, the board unanimously decided to stand by the legal interpretation that e-cigarettes are smoking devices.
“You’re inhaling and you’re exhaling; it doesn’t matter what it is. You’re smoking,” said board member Susan Condo.
Stephanie Rogers, owner of the Vapor Lock store in Greenfield, said while she was disappointed the board didn’t take the time to become more educated about the product, she will continue her push against the ban.
“This just started. This is day one,” she said.
Electronic cigarettes are battery-operated and deliver nicotine to the lungs, but they don’t use tobacco. E-cigarettes were introduced in the United States in 2006, and while officials across the country have been debating how to regulate them, users say they are a healthier alternative to smoking and should be acceptable in public places. In February, Hancock County health officer Dr. Sandra Aspy told county commissioners she believes the county’s 2008 no-smoking ordinance includes e-cigarettes and that they should be banned in public places. People caught smoking in a public place could be subject to a $50 fine, with escalating fines for repeat offenders.
Commissioners agreed with Aspy, following a trend in an increasing number of communities to ban the devices.
But Rogers says local officials don’t have enough information about the product to make an informed decision, and she was disappointed Tuesday the health board wasn’t more receptive to the packet of material she presented.
“What I was disappointed in (was) the five of the seven (board members) that were actually there could not table it, discuss it and do a little research,” she said. “They owe it to us. They represent our community, our health and well-being.”
Members of the audience were given five minutes to speak; two others spoke against the e-cigarette ban, including Pat Powers, director of Hancock County Community Corrections.
Powers says the devices are not lighted and therefore don’t fit the definition of smoking devices.
In fact, much of the discussion Tuesday dealt with definitions, even though several health board members acknowledged they didn’t know much about the product.
The ordinance covers people exposed to “toxic chemicals whether in the form of tobacco smoke or otherwise.” The products listed in the ordinance include cigarettes, cigars, pipes and “any other lighted and/or smoldering equipment.”
Board member Jim Bever said he doesn’t know if a chemical combustion takes place, but e-cigarettes certainly match the “smoldering” definition of the law. He also said it’s ultimately the county commissioners’ decision to decide whether to change the ordinance.
“It’s not our job to do the commissioners’ job,” Bever added.
Board president John Ritter said he generally agreed with the county health officer’s interpretation of the law and that e-cigarettes should be included in the countywide ban.
“To err on the side of safety – even in the absence of any knowledge – is probably the position we have to take,” Ritter said.
Dr. Rob Klinestiver commended the health department for its stance on electronic cigarettes.
“Bottom line is, the FDA has not had time to study or regulate this new product,” said Klinestiver, a county lung specialist who spoke from the audience. “E-cigarettes have absolutely no regulation; there’s no known list of chemicals that are in them… We should consider these at least as dangerous as cigarettes, if not more. We just don’t know.”
Electronic-cigarette users stood outside of the county annex afterward, “vaping” and frustrated over the health board’s decision.
“I quit smoking Aug. 1, 2013, and I’m a whole lot better,” said Greenfield resident Lisa Beatty, who has chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. “How can you make a decision when you don’t know? To me, you ought to know before you make a decision.”
Alexandria residents Darlene and Ward Bond attended the meeting because they both work in Greenfield. Ward said the board was too quick in its decision and said the vapor is no different than “boiling water on a stove top.”
“They should have taken the time to consider the information,” he added.
There are nearly 450 signatures on the Vapor Lock store petition against the ban. Rogers said she plans to go before the county commissioners soon but said she was disappointed with their February decision to go along with the health department recommendation without learning more about the devices.
“This is huge,” she said. “It affects a lot of people, and they should have taken more time.”