Lexington could become the largest city in Kentucky to ban electronic cigarettes in most workplaces.
In an email to council on Monday, Vice Mayor Linda Gorton requested that the Urban County Council discuss expanding Fayette County's decade-old smoking ban to include e-cigarettes.
Gorton said this week that she hopes the council's General Government Committee will discuss the ordinance in early October, but they have not set a firm date for a hearing.
Other Kentucky cities — including Berea, Bardstown, Danville, Glasgow, Manchester and Richmond — have already banned the popular alternative to cigarettes. Versailles will have a second reading of its smoking ban ordinance, which includes e-cigarettes, on Oct. 6.
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Amy Barkley, chairwoman of the Smoke-Free Kentucky Coalition, said many cities and states are updating their indoor smoking ordinances to include the alternative nicotine delivery product.
"It's definitely part of a trend," Barkley said. "Lexington has always been the leader in smoke-free policy in this state."
Lexington was the first city to ban cigarette smoking in workplaces in Kentucky when the Urban County Council passed the then-controversial ordinance in 2003.
But Tony Florence, co-owner of 723 Vapor Store in Lexington, which sells e-cigarettes, said the city could be making it more difficult for people to quit smoking by banning the healthier alternative.
"It's ludicrous to try to ban something that is trying to help people kick a horrible habit," Florence said. "The way that I look at it, if you are anti e-cigarette than you are really pro-lung cancer."
Gorton, who is a registered nurse, said that she decided Lexington should go forward with amending its ordinance after the Fayette County Board of Health recommended at its September meeting that electronic cigarettes be included in the ban. Also, Gov. Steve Beshear recently announced a ban on smoking — including e-cigarettes — on state property.
In addition, the Lexington Center Corporation, which runs Rupp Arena and the attached convention center, also voted recently to ban e-cigarettes.
Those who support including electronic cigarettes in smoking bans say e-cigarettes don't really help people stop smoking and that not much is known about the effects of electronic cigarettes.
The Food and Drug Administration does not regulate e-cigarettes.
Many e-cigarettes look like regular cigarettes, so people might not know whether someone is smoking a cigarette or an electronic cigarette.
"It also undermines the enforceability of smoking ordinances," Barkley said.
But Florence says that not all vaporized nicotine delivery systems look like cigarettes. Typically, e-cigarettes that look like traditional cigarettes are owned by the big tobacco companies.
Florence said there is research that shows that the by-product of e-cigarettes has fewer harmful substances than most perfumes.
Most of the research that foes of e-cigarettes cite is bogus, Florence said. The federal government hasn't acted on e-cigarettes for a reason: The research is not conclusive, he said.
"We help people quit smoking, which does cause cancer," Florence said. "We had a man who was nearing 70 years old who smoked three packs a day for decades who quit, using vapor. He's now running a Couch to 5K."
Barkley and other smoke-free advocates say that until the FDA regulates e-cigarettes, it's best to include them in smoking bans.
"Until they are regulated by the FDA, we don't know what's in them," Barkley said.
The change to the ordinance was originally slated to be discussed at the Nov. 11 General Government Committee meeting. But Gorton said the issue could be discussed at the Oct. 7 General Government Committee meeting. If the ban on e-cigarettes is passed out of the committee, the change in the ordinance would still have to be passed by the full 15-member council.
Gorton said she hopes the ordinance banning e-cigarettes can be passed by the end of the year.