A broadened smoking ban in Louisville may be the only way to slow the consumption of electronic cigarettes and hookah in the city, which city leaders including the mayor are identifying as a priority.
Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer last week made a public plea to add the two industries to the current smoking ban, which makes it illegal to smoke in public buildings and places of employment. He said banning electronic cigarettes and hookah from public buildings “is a logical extension of the battle to save lives from the dangers of tobacco.”
Fischer is pushing the city’s health department to research the feasibility of a ban. He said he’ll urge health department officials to examine practices in other cities and seek public input on the issue.
Adding e-cigarettes and hookah to the city’s smoking ban would require approval from the city’s Metro Council. Bill Hollander, chair of the council’s majority Democratic caucus, said he supports a debate of the issue.
“It does seem like a reasonable thing to have a discussion about,” he said. “Hear all viewpoints and make sure all concerns are addressed.”
Hollander also questioned whether there are alternatives to a ban if the goal is to reduce use.
It appears the answer is no.
State Rep. Larry Clark of Louisville introduced a bill in this year’s General Assembly to tax e-cigarettes. He said he filed the legislation to help deter people from using the products, which are not currently regulated by the Federal Drug Administration.
“When you put taxes on anything, the consumption goes down,” he said.
The council and other local entities lack the jurisdiction to institute a tax on e-cigarettes, said Richard Dobson, executive director for the state’s office of sales and excise tax. That would need approval by the state legislature, Dobson said. Hookah is already subject to the state’s tobacco tax.
An amendment to the Kentucky tobacco tax law to include e-cigarettes is not something Fischer will advocate. “That’s not the avenue the mayor is going down,” said Chris Poynter, the mayor’s spokesman.
Dobson said city officials could consider adjusting the licensing process to slow the prevalence of e-cigarette usage in Louisville.
There is no special permit or license for e-cigarette vendors, according to a spokeswoman for the city’s economic development cabinet. Poynter said he’s unclear on the legality of requiring vape shop owners to apply for such a permit or license.
The county attorney’s office, which provides legal services for the council, declined to say whether local lawmakers have the authority to impose a special business application or permit on e-cigarette vendors. A spokeswoman for the office said the council would have to request a legal opinion on the matter.
Fischer claims use of electronic cigarettes and hookah “may lead to use of tobacco cigarettes.” By banning the substances, he said he hopes to put a dent in the city’s smoking rate and related illnesses, like lung cancer — which are among the nation’s highest.
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