Lexington is likely to join a growing number of Kentucky communities in banning electronic cigarettes in most indoor workplaces.
On Tuesday, the Urban County Council's General Government Committee voted 8-0 to add e-cigarettes to a 2003 citywide smoking ban despite pleas from e-cigarette users that the nicotine-delivery device helps them stop smoking cigarettes.
The issue will go before the council for a full vote in coming weeks. No council member spoke against the ban during Tuesday's discussion.
Carol Riker of the University of Kentucky Center for Smoke-Free Policy told the council Tuesday that seven Kentucky cities have banned e-cigarettes. Gov. Steve Beshear included e-cigarettes in a recent ban on smoking on all state property.
Riker said studies have shown that the vapor released from e-cigarettes contains harmful and toxic substances.
"The science is strong that e-cigarettes pollute the air," Riker said. Some of the substances found in e-cigarette vapor include formaldehyde.
Riker said the U.S. Food and Drug Administration does not regulate electronic cigarettes, and it's not clear what's in them.
Other proponents of electronic cigarette bans say that some of the devices also look a lot like regular cigarettes, making it difficult for people to enforce smoking bans.
Tony Florence, one of the owners of 723 Vapor, a Lexington electronic-cigarette store, said there are dozens of studies showing that e-cigarette vapor is not toxic. Florence showed the council some of those studies Tuesday.
"The science does not support it," Florence said of claims that vapor from electronic cigarettes is harmful to other people. Florence said many studies showing that electronic cigarette vapor is harmful are financed by tobacco companies, which have lost business to the alternate nicotine-delivery system.
Anthony Landrum of Lexington told the council that electronic cigarettes helped him quit smoking. Other smoking cessation aids, such as gum, and stop-smoking pills such as Chantix did not work. E-cigarettes are the only thing that have helped him quit, he said.
Vice Mayor Linda Gorton, who proposed the ban on e-cigarettes, said when the council originally passed the 2003 smoking ban, the council heard several doomsday scenarios, including that businesses would close. None of those predictions came true.
"Our public loves clean indoor air," Gorton said. Including electronic cigarettes in the indoor smoking ban for most workplaces will not stop people from using electronic cigarettes. They can still use them, just not indoors, she said.
Florence said he's not sure what will happen to his store — and the nearly dozen e-cigarette stores in Lexington — if council passes the ban on e-cigarettes.
"They may have just sent us out of business," Florence said after Tuesday's meeting.
E-cigarette shops are not excluded from the ban. Florence and other e-cigarette users said they frequently smoke in vapor stores to try various flavors.
Ashley Engle, co-owner of 723 Vapor, said the owners don't want their shops to be considered tobacco stores, which are exempt under the current 2003 ordinance. Nearly everyone who smokes electronic cigarettes is trying desperately to quit smoking, she said. "We're in limbo," Engle said.
If Lexington bans e-cigarettes, it will be the largest city in Kentucky to do so. Other Kentucky cities that have included e-cigarettes in their indoor smoking ban include Berea, Bardstown, Danville, Glasgow, Manchester, Richmond and Versailles.