Board reviewing comments about e-cigarettes; decision most likely in February
GREENFIELD — Smokers could wait up to a month before they hear whether electronic cigarettes will be banned from the same places all other tobacco products are in Greenfield.
Currently, the town bans smoking in bars and restaurants, workplaces, inside and outdoors within 20 feet of municipal buildings, as well as parks and playgrounds.
The town’s Board of Health is also considering banning smoking from outdoor eating areas at restaurants and all outdoor bus stops and taxi stands.
If it decides to do so, e-cigarettes could be included in the ban.
The board held a public hearing on the matter this week and only one person, John Babits, showed up to speak against banning e-cigarettes.
He said he believes the vapor they produce is not harmful to those smoking them or to those nearby when they are being smoked.
Cheryl Sbarra, senior staff attorney for the Massachusetts Association of Health Boards, said she has heard some e-cigarettes have been effective as cessation techniques, but there is great concern that they are “completely unregulated” and that some may be safer than others. She said quality control is a huge issue.
E-cigarette devices can range in cost from just a few dollars to more than $100.
“Vape all you want, but just don’t do it in areas where you can’t smoke,” said Sbarra.
She said many e-cigarettes look like regular cigarettes.
“Kids see them and all of the work we’ve done over the years to control tobacco takes a step back,” said Sbarra.
That is the same concern Nicole Zabko, the town’s health director, and the board have voiced.
“The FDA has not approved e-cigarettes and they are unregulated,” said Zabko. “They are really an unknown at this point and we are trying to protect the public. We don’t know what’s being vaporized and what it might be doing as a second-hand product.”
Zabko and the board said tobacco products target young people and they hope to do something about that in Greenfield with stricter regulations.
“This isn’t going away,” said Zabko. “These new regulations are heading us in the right direction.”
What hazards or potential benefits e-cigarettes pose is now being debated nationally.
“My big question with e-cigarettes is whether it puts youth on a pathway to smoking,” acting Surgeon General Boris Lushniak said recently. He and others also fear that e-cigarettes could undo recent public health gains.
A surgeon general’s report released last week says evidence now suggests that nicotine exposure during adolescence “may have lasting adverse consequences for brain development.”
The battery-operated devices heat nicotine, propylene glycol and glycerin into a vapor, which is inhaled by the user. Unlike conventional tobacco-burning cigarettes, e-cigarettes do not deliver poisonous tars or carbon monoxide.
Currently, the devices are regulated by some local governments, but not by the federal Food and Drug Administration.
Backers of the e-cigarette say the health effects of the key component — nicotine — are well established and minimal for most everyone except pregnant women. They note that nicotine gum and patches have been used as smoking cessation tools for many years.
Meanwhile in Greenfield
The board will continue to take written testimony on the issue until the end of the day on Friday .
Zabko said the board will most likely vote on the regulations in February.
She said the biggest concern it has is enforcement.
“Just like when we banned smoking in town parks, we have to think about how the ban will be enforced,” she said. “We’ll put up signs, educate people, and have to depend on people to comply.”
She said the town will impose fines, but is hoping a first, verbal warning will be enough for most offenders.
If not, they will pay $100 for the first violation, $200 for a second violation occurring within two years of the first, and $300 for a third or subsequent violation occurring within two years of the second.
On Feb. 1, an earlier rule banning tobacco sales in pharmacies will go into effect.
In November the health board banned tobacco products, including e-cigarettes, from being sold in pharmacies. The local businesses that will be affected are CVS Pharmacy, Big Y Supermarket, Stop & Shop Supermarket, Walgreens Pharmacy and Rite Aid Pharmacy.