State legislation introduced to ban e-cigarettes indoors
A state bill backed by legislators will potentially add electronic cigarettes to the state’s Clean Indoor Air Act, effectively banning their use indoors.
State Rep. Debra Heffernan (D-Brandywine Hundred South) filed House Bill 309 (HB 309) on April 29. If the bill passes, use of electronic cigarettes, also known as e-cigarettes, will be prohibited in all indoor public places, such as restaurants, shops and offices.
“This is the way of the future,” Heffernan said.
An e-cigarette is a battery-powered device that heats a cartridge of liquid, producing a mist that can be inhaled by the user, according to the Center for Disease Control. They come in a variety of models, some of which are designed to resemble regular cigarettes.
E-cigarettes are marketed as being safer alternatives to regular cigarettes, as they produce no smoke but only an odorless vapor that contains nicotine and flavorings.
However, Heffernan said e-cigarettes may not be as safe as their manufacturers imply. They are not well-studied, she said, and the risks to users and bystanders are unknown.
“As a society, we waited a long time to regulate cigarettes and secondhand smoke,” Heffernan said. “So I don’t think we want to wait this time.”
Heffernan said preliminary studies indicate e-cigarette emissions may contain toxins and carcinogens, which could adversely affect children and people with respiratory problems.
“It’s true that there is no thick cloud of smoke with e-cigarettes,” Heffernan said. “But it’s
better to be cautious. We don’t want to wait years down the road to find out we’ve all been exposed.”
Sheau Ching Chai, professor of behavioral health and nutrition, said she agrees there is not much data on the hazards of e-cigarettes, which only began to appear on the market in the 2000s.
“There have been some reports to the FDA of adverse effects from e-cigarettes, including hypertension, heart failure and pneumonia,” Chai said.
Chai said there is not enough information to determine whether e-cigarettes are less dangerous than conventional cigarettes.
Heffernan said Delaware became the second state to ban smoking indoors in 2002. She said she does not want to go back to the days of having to breathe in toxic chemicals.
“Whether e-cigarettes are more or less harmful than regular cigarettes is beside the point,” Heffernan said. “People have gotten used to clean air.”
The Clean Indoor Air Act has been in place for 12 years, so smokers are used to going outside to smoke, Heffernan said. E-cigarette users can behave the same way.
Heffernan said under HB 309, using an e-cigarette indoors would carry the same penalty as smoking indoors. Violations of the Clean Indoor Air Act are addressed through Delaware Alcohol and Tobacco Enforcement, she said.
“Enforcement is complaint-driven,” Heffernan said. “Restaurants can be fined if they allow smoking, so most establishments are self-policing.”
Many restaurants are confused as to what the rules are for e-cigarettes, Heffernan said, which is why the Delaware Restaurant Association supports HB 309.
She said she expects HB 309 to pass. It has broad, bipartisan support in the House and the Senate, she said, as well as from the Markell Administration, the attorney general and several major public health organizations.
Three states already outlaw the indoor use of e-cigarettes, Heffernan said, and Bethany Beach just voted to ban them from the boardwalk.
“Nobody’s saying you can’t use e-cigarettes,” Heffernan said. “We’re just asking that you be respectful and not infringe on the clean air other people breathe.”
Jessica Borcky, president of the Student Government Association (SGA), said that e-cigarettes will be included in the planned campus-wide tobacco ban, even though they are not technically tobacco products.
Borcky agrees e-cigarettes are potentially hazardous. She said because e-cigarettes contain nicotine, they are unhealthy, and people should think twice before using them.
“I think we should try to be as healthy as we can and not expose ourselves to addictive substances,” Borcky said.
Heffernan said she supports the campus tobacco ban and is pleased it will include e-cigarettes.
“I think it’s a great idea,” Heffernan said. “We need to be ahead of the curve.”