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Regulations on electronic cigarettes still being formed

An electronic cigarette  |  Sun-Times Library

An electronic cigarette | Sun-Times Library

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Updated: October 25, 2013 6:10AM

The man and his two friends were sitting in a restaurant, puffing away on their cigarettes, with no concern about their actions.

No, they were not breaking the law. In fact, there are few if any laws that cover the kind of cigarettes they were smoking.

They were using electronic cigarettes, a fairly new and growing phenomenon that is a safe recreational substitute for smoking, an aide for those trying to quit smoking, a drug delivery system just as bad for the health as cigarettes, or all of the above, depending on who one is talking to.

“The thing was, no one said anything to us,” said the man, who wished to remain anonymous, in a St. Charles coffee shop Friday. “I used one all the time for about six months after I quit smoking. I used it everywhere, and nobody ever said anything.”

But there are places where they will say something. For instance, in that very coffee shop in St. Charles, a Starbucks, an e-cigarette would not be welcome. Starbucks has a policy against their use inside their stores.

But the rules for e-cigarettes are not always so cut and dried.

“We don’t have any formal policy on it,” said John Lapinski, DuPage County Court administrator.

He said the only time it ever came up was in the jury room, where a prospective juror used one. Lapinski said court officials made their “policy’ on the spot.

“We don’t allow smokers to take a break, so, as a matter of fairness, we ask them not to use e-cigarettes, either,” he said.

The policy is just as arbitrary at the Kendall County Courthouse, where Chief Judge Timothy McCann has banned the use of e-cigarettes inside there, at least until someone comes along with a reason to change that policy.

At the County Board’s Facilities Committee meeting earlier this month, McCann asked committee members and representatives of courthouse security who were there what they thought. According to minutes of the meeting, no one favored allowing use of e-cigarettes inside, so McCann “decided for now that smoking of electronic cigarettes indoors at the courthouse would not be allowed.”

At the Kane County Courthouse, Court Administrator Doug Naughton said officials would likely not allow it because smoking is banned, and e-cigarettes “simulate smoking.” But he said as far as he knows, a policy has never been discussed, and it has never come up with the public.

“If an incident has ever occurred in this building, I’d likely be aware of it,” he said.

There were similar responses from city halls in Naperville and Aurora, where officials reported the issue has never come up or been discussed. When asked about it in Yorkville, City Administrator Bart Olson said, “We haven’t addressed it, not sure if we will yet.”

It’s not unusual to see a lack of policy regarding the e-cigarettes, because no one is sure just what they are, or whether they pose any danger to anyone. Even the U.S. Food and Drug Administration declines to regulate the devices, because they have not done enough study on them yet.

The FDA tried to regulate e-cigarettes as a drug delivery system, similar to other smoking cessation devices. But the federal courts struck that down, so there is, in effect, no federal regulation of them at this time.

But individual states do have some regulation. Illinois does not regulate e-cigarettes, except to ban selling them to people under the age of 18. Gov. Pat Quinn signed that law in August, and it will go into effect on Jan. 1, 2014.

The basics

E-cigarettes come in many shapes and sizes. Many look more or less like long cigarettes, others look like cigars or pipes. They all work the same basic way:

The user inhales through a mouthpiece.

Air flow triggers a sensor that switches on a small, battery-powered heater. The heater vaporizes liquid nicotine in a small cartridge. Users can opt for a cartridge without nicotine.

The heater also vaporizes propylene glycol in the cartridge, which creates the vapor or the fake smoke.

E-cigarettes contain no tobacco products. Even the nicotine is synthetic. The devices sell for $100 to $200. Refill cartridge packs vary in price depending on nicotine content, and liquid for do-it-yourself refills are sold, too.

The debate on where and how e-cigarettes should be used likely will continue, in many different ways. Fancy restaurants in New York are talking about banning e-cigarettes, not because of any danger, but because some restaurant owners think they look tacky.

But tobacco companies are hedging on the fact that they eventually will replace their product. Big tobacco companies are developing their own e-cigarette products, the largest being Lorillard, which acquired blu e-cigs in 2012, and now controls around 40 percent of the e-cigarette market.

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