In response to Mayor Greg Fischer’s plan aimed at improving health in the city, Louisville Metro Council members are set to introduce an ordinance to regulate electronic cigarettes and hookahs.
Council members Vicki Aubrey Welch, Mary Woolridge and Marilyn Parker are sponsoring a ban on the sale of electronic cigarettes and the hookah mix—called shisha—to minors.
Parker, a Republican with libertarian tea party leanings, said the ban would have minimal effects on local businesses because many hookah bars already work to keep nicotine-laden smoking mixtures from minors.
“They’re doing a pretty good job making sure the nicotine is not in the product minors are smoking,” she said.
She said regardless of ongoing efforts to keep minors nicotine-free, the legislation would “ban minors from going in the hookah bars and engaging in the smoking of the hookah.”
Restrictions are already in place to ban minors from smoking traditional hookah shisha, which contains tobacco. However, the proposed legislation will specifically target an herbal shisha mixture that does not contain tobacco.
Department of Health and Wellness Director LaQuandra Nesbitt said the herbal mixture is still not completely safe because of the method of smoking, which provides an exposure to carbon monoxide.
“It is our responsibility as leaders and adults in our community to protect our youth from health issues or behaviors they don’t fully understand the consequences of yet,” she said. “Moving in the direction of restricting their access to those products is the right thing to do.”
In relation to electronic cigarettes, or e-cigs, Parker said she has already seen support of the ban from one of the nation’s largest distributors of electronic cigarettes, Lorillard.
The oldest continuously operating tobacco company in the United States, Lorillard, in 2013 reported $54 million in net sales of electronic cigarettes.
“They were fully supportive of the measure,” Parker said.
Nikhil Rao, owner of Pure Vapes, a Louisville company that produces fuel for electronic cigarettes, said he supports a ban on selling products containing nicotine to minors—but he added that most sellers already turn minors away.
“Nobody that I know of in the industry will sell anything to minors already,” he said. “We know the nicotine is addictive and regulated in some way, so we just keep that away from the minors.”
Currently, there is no ban on the sale of electronic cigarettes to minors.
Ashley Webb, director of the Kentucky Regional Poison Control Center, said the long term effects of smoking electronic cigarettes are virtually unknown.
“The research isn’t there on the effects of long term smoking of e-cigarettes,” she said.
Webb said the biggest known risk of e-cig use is mishandling the nicotine-rich liquid, which most commonly results in calls to poison control for treatment of gastrointestinal symptoms in children younger than 6-years-old and adults.
Nesbitt said e-cigarettes can produce the same cancer-causing carcinogens produced by tobacco cigarettes.
However, Rao said one of the most prevalent ingredients in e-cigarette fuel, propylene glycol, was proven to kill viruses in the air during tests at hospitals.
He said the supplies used to make the fuel are very common in other industries such as soap-making and cosmetics.
The ban is the only proposed legislation yet to stem from the 59-page Healthy Louisville 2020 report Mayor Fischer and Nesbitt announced. It also recommends an initiative to reduce salt intake and restrict trans-fats among nearly 80 other measures to help improve health statistics.
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