In Louisville, a panel of medical and public health officials proposed their studies and make a case against e-cigs and hookah that could ban them in the city going forward and possibly kick off a wider variety of bans across the county.
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Proponents of vaping, meanwhile, took issue with some of the data presented at the community educational forum and voiced concern that the ban would hurt local businesses.
“It comes to be somewhat of a personal rights issue,” said Aruni Bhatnagar, Ph.D and professor at the University of Louisville Department of Medicine, noting that the aerosol – particles suspended in gas – emitted by e-cigarettes still carries nicotine and potentially harmful compounds to which others could be exposed without their consent.
Bhatnagar added that no studies exist that examine the long-term consequences of vaping or secondhand smoke exposure are unknown as is the exact degree to which e-cigarettes are safer than cigarettes.
Others, too, spoke at the meeting at the health department’s downtown headquarters, including Paul Kiser, Ph.D and associate professor at Bellarmine University. Kiser warned of the growing appeal of e-cigarettes and smoking hookah to younger consumers and noted there are misperceptions by this age group of the health concerns over vaping.
Mayor Greg Fischer’s office assembled the gathering to launch a community conversation about prohibiting vape products in indoor public places and worksites. Eight years ago the city enacted a smoking ban banning the use of tobacco products in such spaces.
Since that time the city has seen an explosion in storefronts either selling or using e-cigarette and hookah products. Fischer has said including those products in the smoking ban is a “logical extension” to saving lives. The forum comes as communities across the country debate similar bans. Thirteen Kentucky communities have such a ban, according to the city’s health department.
Yet proponents who attended the Wednesday forum maintained they have seen firsthand how e-cigarettes have helped wean smokers off cigarettes.
Both hookah smoking and e-cigarettes are considered a healthier alternative to traditional tobacco cigarettes by enthusiasts, and the owners of vaping businesses in Louisville said Wednesday that an outright ban would kill their livelihoods.
“E-cigarettes are much maligned by a lot of people, and I get it,” said Tony Florence, who owns a vaping business in Lexington. “And in a perfect world, no one would smoke. No one would use e-cigarettes, but that’s not the case.”
He said the proposed ban, particularly in vape shops, would be a barrier to those seeking cigarette alternatives and could lead them back to cigarette use, causing more harm than good.
Florence, alongside many fellow members of consumer advocacy group Kentucky Smoke Free Association, also pointed out much of the research shared at the forum was from earlier this decade.
Bhatnagar and others on the panel countered, saying more than anecdotes are needed to show vaping is an effective smoking cessation tool and in fact some data show the opposite might be true.
The city has little information on how many vaping businesses are operating in Louisville. Officials said there currently are no permit requirements to operate such shops but that any hookah establishment using tobacco would be a violation of the city’s smoking ban. There are currently no restrictions on e-cigs, health officials said.