Electronic cigarettes look like cigarettes. They supply nicotine like cigarettes. Users exhale a puffy cloud like cigarettes. So they must be cigarettes, right?
According to the Frisco City Council, yes. On Tuesday night, its members voted unanimously to ban the use of e-cigarettes wherever traditional cigarettes are banned -- i.e. in most public places.
"I gotta say, I'm just not compelled to view e-cigarettes any different than I do regular cigarettes," said Councilman Bob Allen. "I don't believe I can get to that point."
The vote makes Frisco the first city in North Texas to take that step and perhaps the second, after Lufkin, in the entire state, according to The Dallas Morning News. Flower Mound recently banned the use of e-cigs on town-owned property.
In the words of the ordinance, the City Council found that "the smoking of electronic cigarettes and/or e-cigarettes and liquid nicotine have been demonstrated to have a detrimental effect on others in close proximity to the smoker."
But, as several council members acknowledged during last night's meeting, that research on the subject is inconclusive.
In 2009, the Food and Drug Administration analyzed e-cigarettes from two leading brands and detected diethylene glycol, a chemical used to make antifreeze that is toxic to humans, and known carcinogens like nitrosamines, but the study was small and presence of the concentration of the chemicals was low.
And that's more of a concern to the person vaping than to people around them. A recent Drexel University study concluded that second-hand vapor is not a health concern. Same with a 2012 Clarkson University report.
Tim Nelson was the lone Frisco council member to voice opposition to the e-cigarette ban. He described the experience of sitting next to someone vaping as akin to sitting next to someone popping gum or dipping chew tobacco -- mildly irritating but harmless.
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"Until there's something more conclusive I'll lean on the side of letting people do what they want to do," he said.
To his colleagues, however, the vague possibility that second-hand vapor might some day be found to be harmful was enough to justify a ban. Plus, vaping is annoying.
"This is always a delicate subject when you're discussing the rights of one versus the rights of many," said Councilman Jeff Cheney. "Yes there's the right of one to be able to smoke an e-cigarette but there's the rights of those other patrons to not sit next to it either and or my kids to not sit next to it."
Send your story tips to the author, Eric Nicholson.