Motion to ban e-cigs in public spaces pushes forward

In early December, the full Minneapolis City Council will vote on the proposed prohibition.

Nate Stevensen and Alysia Urbina tests different e-cigarette flavors at Smokeless Smoking Vapor Shop on Tuesday evening.

Elizabeth Brumley

Nate Stevensen and Alysia Urbina tests different e-cigarette flavors at Smokeless Smoking Vapor Shop on Tuesday evening.

Kelsey Christensen

Minneapolis is inching closer to banning electronic cigarettes from indoor public spaces and workplaces.

Dozens of the city’s residents, business owners and medical professions gathered Monday to defend and protest e-cigarettes in a public hearing for the Minneapolis Clean Indoor Air Act Ordinance Amendment.

At the end of the hearing, the city’s Health, Environment and Community Engagement Committee voted to ban e-cigarettes and similar devices in indoor public spaces, mostly restaurants and bars. The full City Council will vote on the proposed ban at its upcoming Dec. 5 meeting.

Many “vape” shop owners spoke at the hearing about their business’s need to provide samples to customers buying new flavors.

“It would be a detriment to consumers because they don’t know what kind of product they’re getting,” said Austin Flum-Straw, manager of Smokeless Smoking Vapor Lounge on East Hennepin Avenue.

Other “vape” shop owners at the meeting voiced skepticism that their stores could be exempt from the proposed boycott. But during concluding remarks on Monday, council members said they would change the ordinance’s language to exclude them.

Ward 2 Councilman Cam Gordon, who chairs the committee, said the proposed ban is not meant to stop e-cigarette use in nicotine shops.

Several e-cigarette users testified at the hearing that they shouldn’t have to “vape” in the same area as regular smokers, since they quit that addiction and switched to vapor.

“I was not able to run 5K [races] before, but now it’s not a problem,” said Flum-Straw, who turned to e-cigarettes after years of smoking two packs a day.

But council members said they needed more reason to allow e-cigarette users to “vape” in public.

Several medical professionals and activists also spoke at the meeting and pushed for e-cigarettes to be added to the 2007 Freedom to Breathe provisions of the Clean Indoor Air Act, which aimed to protect employees and citizens from secondhand smoke while in public spaces.

Dr. Arthur Hanson, a University of Minnesota Medical School alumnus, described at the meeting how nicotine — whether emitted from a traditional cigarette or its more modern electronic counterpart — sticks to carpet, drapes, clothes and most other objects in a room.

Hanson, a pulmonologist, said these molecules can affect anyone in the area, including children and adults.

“Nicotine is sticky,” he said. “We don’t know how much nicotine is coming out, and some is carcinogenic.”

No long-term studies have tested the health impacts of e-cigarettes. And because they are not FDA-approved, it’s not possible for consumers to know the makeup or concentration of their potentially harmful chemicals.