Vapor Conflict: E-Cigarettes Ignite Debate About Smoking in Bars and Restaurants
I couldn't get anyone I know to speak on the record for this story.
Photo by Michael Dorausch Should Houston ban e-cigarettes in restaurants and bars?
The only regular smokers I know are in the restaurant industry, and in spite of the fact that anyone can see them smoking outside between shifts, no one wanted to admit to smoking e-cigarettes.
"Is it because e-cigarettes look kind of silly?" I asked. "Or is it because you don't want to give the impression that you're harming your palates with nicotine?"
No, and no, everyone said. They just didn't want to talk about it. Then they would turn away and continue puffing on a device that resembles a shiny ballpoint pen.
People are starting to talk more about e-cigarettes, though, as the once-oddball implements are becoming more common everywhere from the classroom to the boardroom and many restaurants in between. The Wednesday before Thanksgiving, the New York City Council announced that it would add e-cigarettes to the 2002 Smoke-Free Air Act, effectively banning them from all public places. Though the ban will ultimately come down to a vote, it's raising a question that many have so far neglected to answer: Should e-cigarettes be allowed everywhere regular cigarettes are not?
In Houston, there are no rules regarding this relatively new phenomenon.
Photo by TheNorlo An e-cigarette made to resemble a traditional tobacco cigarette.
According to our local regulations:
Smoking is prohibited in enclosed public places. Public places are places in which the public is invited or permitted. Restaurants, bars, museums, libraries, public and private schools, convention centers, theaters, bingo halls, bowling alleys, buses, taxicabs, retail establishments, shopping malls, lobbies, restrooms, and hallways of apartment or condominium buildings are a few examples of enclosed public places where smoking is prohibited except under very limited circumstances.
Pretty straightforward until you get to all the rules about how far away you have to be from emergency exits and air vents if you're outside, but that doesn't seem to be a contentious topic. But then there's the question of what constitutes "smoking."
Houston ordinance defines "smoking" as "inhaling, exhaling, burning, or carrying any
lighted cigar, cigarette, pipe, or other lighted tobacco product in any manner or in any form." Logic would follow that because e-cigarettes aren't "lighted," puffing on one doesn't constitute smoking.
When a traditional cigarette is lit, it burns tobacco, which releases smoke containing nicotine. The smoker then inhales, bringing the substance into the lungs. Rather than being lit by a lighter or match, e-cigarettes are battery-powered. They work by turning liquid nicotine into vapor using an atomizer. The user then inhales the vaporized nicotine, which takes nicotine into the lungs and bloodstream, creating the same effect as smoking a traditional cigarette, but without the harmful tobacco, tar and carbon dioxide.
Photo by FergusM1970 It's great that you're being healthier and all, but that looks like a weapon.
E-cigarettes were invented by a Chinese pharmacist in 2003 and hit the market in China the following year. The smoking devices received an international patent in 2007, but really took off in the U.S. in 2012, when American companies started producing them. They've quickly become popular here, and as a result, individual businesses, cities and states are grappling with how to regulate their use.
Houston has yet to pass any sort of legislation banning e-cigarettes from public places, but Eastfield College in Mesquite, Texas, recently decided that, like traditional cigarettes, e-cigarettes should be banned from the college campus. The only place students can smoke is in their cars.