South Portland council may limit use of e-cigarettes

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SOUTH PORTLAND — The City Council is considering banning the use of e-cigarettes – the practice commonly known as vaping – in some public spaces and recreational areas.

The proposal at Monday’s council workshop by Kevin Adams, director of Parks, Recreation and Waterfront, and Jana Richards, public health coordinator for the Opportunity Alliance, would amend Chapter 18 of the city’s Code of Ordinances to include a ban on all smoking devices.

The new language would prohibit vaping in public places where people are already prohibited from smoking tobacco: parks, beaches, playgrounds and sports fields. Fines for violators would range from $100 to $500.

The Portland City Council in April 2015 took a similar step and banned vaping and the use of e-cigarettes in public places where the use of tobacco was already prohibited.

E-cigarettes are reusable devices that vaporize flavored liquid instead of burning tobacco. Vapor from e-cigarettes smells different from cigarette smoke, but still contains nicotine and other substances found in cigarettes.

Councilor Linda Cohen said the measure would align with the city’s objective to curb adolescent drug use, which was highlighted recently after a $625,000 federal drug-use grant was awarded to South Portland to help with enforcement measures. The grant from the Office of National Drug Control Policy is being used to combat juvenile drug use and will be distributed over the next five years.

Adams told councilors that because e-cigarettes aren’t technically banned, there’s no way for staff or police officers to stop users from vaping in public places.

Richards said vaping is harmful, and “we’re seeing the popularity of (e-cigarettes) rise pretty dramatically.”

While it is widely believed that e-cigarettes are slightly safer than regular cigarettes because they don’t contain tobacco, Richards said her organization is still seeing young people exposed to nicotine, and, in many cases, transition from vaping to smoking tobacco.

The South Portland School Department recently amended its policy to add e-cigarettes to its list of banned tobacco products.

While there was no vote Monday, councilors expressed unanimous support for the measure, and discussed taking it a step further and banning smoking at school and city bus stops.

Councilor Claude Morgan said he’s hearing concerns from some constituents about “cluster smoking” at school bus stops, and has sometimes seen parents smoking while they wait with their children.

“I think we owe it to our kids to make sure that there is not passive smoke in that area where they are going to be waiting 20 minutes in the morning,” Morgan said.

Councilor Patti Smith pushed it further: “What about adult bus stops? I don’t want to smell smoke.”

“The point is,” Smith said, “is it just for children, or is it good for human health all around? My thought is that smoke is not good for you.”

Mayor Tom Blake agreed. “To me, a bus stop is a bus stop, whether it’s a 12-year-old or a 72-year-old.”

The item is expected to be discussed in a first reading on a date to be determined.

Alex Acquisto can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 106 or Follow Alex on Twitter: @AcquistoA.

A selection of e-cigarettes, the use of which could be banned at some public areas in South Portland.

South Portland and Scarborough reporter for The Forecaster. Graduate of Western Kentucky University and the Salt Institute for Documentary Studies. Alex can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 106.