MOUNT VERNON – At last Monday’s city council meeting, Mayor Richard Mavis mentioned an idea that he said will likely be discussed more in-depth at future meetings: including vaping in the city’s ‘no smoking’ ordinance.
The city’s current law, which went into effect in 1995, allows for the designation of ‘smoking’ and ‘non-smoking’ areas in public places, including within businesses, according to City Law Director Rob Broeren. This allows restaurants to establish ‘non-smoking’ areas, for example.
While the city’s law is out of date, as the state adopted a full-out ban on smoking in public places and businesses in 2006 (there are no longer designated smoking areas under state law), neither law addresses the growing phenomenon of vaping, which Mavis believes is a health hazard.
“The information I have (says) it is a method of smoking, it is hazardous to your health,” Mavis said.
Mavis has discussed the issue with Mike Whitaker, a certified tobacco treatment specialist at the Knox County Health Department, who believes there is misconception when it comes to vaping.
“My view, as well as the Health Department’s, is that vaping is not a safe product to use,” Whitaker said. “Whether it’s safer than cigarettes, that’s debatable. But there are still known carcinogens that are in the vaping liquid, or ‘vape juice’ as they sometimes call it.”
Whitaker said that like cigarettes, vape pens give off second-hand fumes that can harm those within close range. He said recent research has shown that vape juice chemicals, such as formaldehyde and other carcinogens, can alter a person’s DNA due to the strength of the chemicals. He believes the tobacco industry has covered up the downsides of vaping.
“The electronic cigarettes, the vape pens, they have known carcinogens in it. Even the ones that they kind of advertise that there’s no nicotine in it, there are studies showing that there are levels of nicotine in the product,” Whitaker said. “The tobacco companies own the vape pens and they have misled the public for so long. They’re not stopping with that.”
Mavis said he will present Whitaker’s research-based findings to council at its next meeting, on September 10, and discussions will likely continue into the September 24 meeting.
Broeren confirmed that council could eventually pass legislation that would include electronic cigarettes and vape pens in the ‘no smoking’ ban, and that the city’s policy would need to be updated at the same time to coincide with state law. This would mean that both vaping and smoking would be outlawed in public places and businesses within the city.
Several Ohio cities have already passed ‘no vaping’ legislation, including Newark, which did so on August 20. Newark’s ban mirrors Mavis’ idea, as it “prohibits the use of electronic nicotine delivery systems, including electronic cigarettes, from virtually all enclosed public places in the city, matching the existing law on smoking,” according to the Newark Advocate.
Newark’s ordinance states that “health, safety, and aesthetic concerns surrounding the use of tobacco by conventional means carry over in many ways to the use of electronic nicotine delivery systems, thereby warranting the regulation of such electronic nicotine delivery systems in a substantially similar manner.”
Newark’s legislation came after local business owners claimed that people vaping outside their stores were driving off customers.
Newark's ordinance does not regulate the use of e-cigarettes or vaping in areas like private residences, hotel rooms, family-owned and operated businesses not open to the public, and retail tobacco and vapor stores already in business.
Mavis' idea concerns Travis Kauffman, manager of Puckerfish Vape, which is one of two vape shops in Mount Vernon. Kauffman believes a public vaping ban could severely hinder business.
“I would hope that doesn’t pass because that would definitely affect our business in here,” Kauffman said. “I would say, yeah, that’s definitely concerning and something I would want to almost want to talk with (Mavis) about. Because a lot of what we do, you know, people come into the store and they can try the different flavors that we offer.
“We’re a juice company, that’s what we do. So if you can’t try our juices, you can’t really get too much.”
Kauffman hopes to talk with Mavis and council before anything moves forward concerning potential legislation. He also hopes that, if Mount Vernon were to adopt a vaping ban, it would be like Newark’s – where it would not affect the vape shops themselves.
Mavis said that after hearing Kauffman’s concerns, he would consider making a provision for vape shops. He encouraged Kauffman and all who are concerned about the idea to come to upcoming council meetings to voice their opinions.
Kauffman said that while the FDA does not allow vape store employees to discuss the benefits or downsides of vaping, he thinks it’s “too soon to tell” if vaping might affect people negatively. He noted that there is a clear difference between the contents of e-liquid and cigarettes, and said that many customers use vaping as a way to quit smoking. Kauffman turned to vaping four years ago and has been cigarette-free ever since.
He also views vaping as a hobby, as many will buy large devices to participate in vaping competitions.
“You’ve got both sides of the spectrum, but there’s definitely people in town that do it for both reasons,” said Kauffman, who has been the store manager since last December. “I mean, like I said, I’ve been vaping for four years and it’s kind of a hobby of mine now. But I still use it as the nicotine replacement so I can stay off the cigarettes.”
Kauffman hopes city administration thinks long and hard about a potential vaping ban. He thinks it should not be the government’s job to initiate such a ban, and that it should be a decision made by individual businesses.
“It’s definitely concerning, but I hope that maybe – I’m crossing my fingers that they’ll actually do a little bit of research on it before they make a rash decision like that,” Kauffman said. “That would be kind of awful. But we’ll see how it goes.”
Whitaker also believes the decision to introduce potential legislation should be taken seriously, but for different reasons. He noted that vape liquid is not FDA-regulated and is not proven to have helped people quit smoking, although it is perceived that way.
“We know of those products that can help people to quit – nicotine pouches, gum, lozenges, as well as prescription medicine that can help people to quit. There is no scientific evidence that says that vaping will help a person to quit smoking. If anything, once they vape for a while, it leads them back to smoking cigarettes again and potentially to other things as well,” said Whitaker, who added that those who go through the Health Department’s tobacco cessation program are not allowed to vape.
Both Kauffman and Whitaker agreed that there is a solid contingent of Mount Vernon residents who vape. Kauffman said Puckerfish, which has operated in Mount Vernon since 2014, has a healthy customer base. Whitaker, 47, who has lived in Knox County his entire life, considers vaping to be “a very big issue” in the city.
“I think it’s especially an issue with the youth – young adults and teenagers,” Whitaker said. “For the first time in a long time, the tobacco cigarette smoking rates have gone down with teenage and young adult use dramatically. But studies will show that vaping has gone up three or four times more than it ever has been.”
Whitaker believes that vape shops entice a younger audience with the juice flavors they sell, as they are often fruity and sometimes candy-themed.
“Who else would that be designed for?” Whitaker asked. “It’s more for the youth. So it’s very much a concern. And studies are showing that as they become older, then they kind of switch to cigarettes, which kind of starts the whole cycle all over again.”
While Whitaker didn’t have an estimate for the number of people in Mount Vernon who vape, he explained vaping’s rise in popularity locally through his experience with the tobacco cessation program.
“When vaping first came out, maybe like one or two percent of our cessation clients were vaping,” Whitaker said. “But last year, I believe our numbers took a big jump. I think we were around 20 or 25 percent of those that were enrolled were not only smoking, but they were also vaping as well.”
Mavis said that the idea of including vaping in the city’s ‘no smoking’ ordinance will be discussed further in future council meetings and that the idea is still relatively new at this point.
“This is probably going to take at least a couple months moving forward,” Mavis said.