While aldermen at a joint meeting of the Finance and Health committees voiced few concerns about stiffer regulations for menthols and sent the proposal on to the full City Council, several spoke against a plan to treat e cigarettes like conventional cigarettes that emit harmful second hand smoke.

The e cigarette measure got deferred despite testimony from Dr. Bechara Choucair, Emanuel s commissioner of the Chicago Department of Public Health, urging aldermen to adopt it.

The measure also stalled in spite of support from Finance Committee chairman Ald. Edward Burke, 14th, who co sponsored the plan and said he would tweak it in the face of opposition.

The ordinance would change the city code s definition of “smoking” to include using an electronic smoking device and would require stores selling e cigarettes to follow the same rules as those selling tobacco products, like outlawing sales to minors. It would also ban e cigarettes in public places like in restaurants and bars.

The Los Angeles City Council passed an ordinance regulating e cigarettes last week. New York City is considering one.

But since electronic smoking devices can be loaded with liquids that don t include nicotine and simply taste like fruits or other flavors, several aldermen wondered how the public smoking rules would be enforced. It could be tough for owners of restaurants and other businesses to prove somebody exhaling water vapor from an e cigarette is forcing other patrons to inhale nicotine and not just flavored water, they said.

Ald. Leslie Hairston, 5th, also said it isn t fair to come down hard on the product so soon after Emanuel s budget bumped up the taxes on sales of conventional cigarettes in Chicago to the highest in the nation. “You can t on one day say We re going to tax the heck out of cigarettes, and then the next day, Well, for those who can t afford them but decide you want to smoke vapor, we re going to decide you can t do that, either, ” she said.

Ald. Brendan Reilly, 42nd, himself a smoker, pointed out there is no definitive evidence that even the nicotine vapor from an e cigarette is nearly as harmful as second hand smoke.

Burke said he would try to rework the language of the plan so it focuses on the potentially harmful vapors rather than the electronic contraption. “Are we banning a device or are we banning an unhealthy product?” he asked.

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