Health & Medicine

Board of Health explores regulating e-cigarettes

Electronic cigarettes
Electronic cigarettes The Kansas City Star

The Lexington-Fayette County Board of Health is exploring restricting the use of electronic cigarettes in public spaces and how to best educate the public about their dangers.

Describing tobacco companies as "evil," Board Chairman Scott White said there is more news every day about the problems with e-cigarettes. Most of America's big tobacco companies have purchased e-cigarette companies, which are sometimes touted in advertisements as a safer alternative to traditional cigarettes.

White, an attorney who has faced Big Tobacco in the courtroom, noted many of the flavors of e-cigarettes, like bubble gum, are targeted at children. "If marketing a deadly product to children isn't evil I don't know what is," said White, who helped lead the state's effort to sue the tobacco companies in the late 1990s.

"We have enough history with the tobacco industry to know we need to get ahead of this," said White, during a meeting of the board Monday.

The exact steps the board of health will take need to be determined. But White said, "everything is on the table".

Options including amending Lexington's current smoking ban to include e-cigarettes and creating a public education campaign.

White also said he planned to send a letter to Superintendent Tom Shelton asking the Fayette County Public School system to join the board in fighting the spread of e-cigarettes.

Ellen Hahn, director of Kentucky Center for Smoke-Free Policy at the University of Kentucky, said five other Kentucky communities restrict e-cigarettes as part of their smoke-free ordinances: Bardstown, Glasgow, Manchester, Danville and Madison County.

Hahn said it's now considered a "best practice" to include electronic cigarettes in smoke-free laws because they are a tobacco product and they pollute the air. E-cigarettes give off tiny particles that can lodge in the lungs and cause disease, she said.

When Lexington passed its ban in 2003, e-cigarettes had not yet been introduced in the United States.

Dr. Stephanie Mayfield, Kentucky's commissioner of public health, told the board the state has a goal of reducing overall smoking by 10 percent.

Public health departments in the state are helping to reduce smoking rates in Kentucky. Mayfield said the rates remain high with about 29 percent of adults smoking and approximately 18 percent people younger than 18.

The state has also reported a leap in nicotine poisonings and that leap has been tied to e-cigarettes.

In April Gov. Steve Beshear signed a law banning the sale of e-cigarettes to minors.