The Tooele City Council decided to table an ordinance regulating the use of e-cigarettes on Wednesday. The ordinance sought to “mirror” Utah’s policies already in place concerning e-cigarettes. In Utah, it is illegal to smoke – or “vape” – e-cigarettes in public places.
E-cigarettes are a fairly new innovation, and little is known about the long-term health effects.
Steven Northup and his brother are co-owners of Salt Lake Vapors, a store dedicated entirely to the sale of e-cigarettes.
He started the store because he and his brother were looking for a way to quit smoking real cigarettes – the ones that burn and produce actual smoke.
"My brother got into it about three years ago, and it helped him to not smoke cigarettes, so he just traded this for e-cigs, and he got me into it," Northup said. "It became more of a hobby to me- finding out all the new things that are out, how things work. We decided to open up our shop and kinda help other people with that."
In fact, e-cigarettes are being marketed as an alternative to smoking tobacco. While e-cigarette companies can’t legally tout their product as a healthier alternative, they do promote other benefits. Take this ad for Blu Electronic Cigarettes as an example.
"Blu lets me enjoy smoking without it affecting the people around me. Because it's vapor. Not tobacco smoke. That means no ash, and best of all, no offensive odor. With Blu, you can smoke at a basketball game if you want to. And how bout not having to go outside every ten minutes when you're in a bar with your friends. The point is, you can smoke Blu virtually anywhere."
Anywhere, except in public in Utah. In May of last year, Utah banned smoking e-cigarettes in public places such as most restaurants or parks. The ban was a result of classifying e-cigarettes in the same category as traditional tobacco products, such as regular cigarettes, cigars, and hookahs.
However, while there’s indisputable evidence that tobacco products are bad for your health, the jury is still out on e-cigarettes. In a statement, the federal Food and Drug Administration said further research is needed to assess the potential public health benefits and risks of electronic cigarettes.
"A lot of research is being done, and a lot of research has been concluded, but as long as long-term studies, there hasn't really been anything done," said Nathan Mitchell, Salt Lake Vapors manager.
He said he's yet to be convinced that e-cigarette vapor is harmful, but he understands the uneasiness some have around e-cigarette smokers.
"There's definitely some ettiquette that needs to come into play, and that's probably where a lot of this backlash is coming from, is people abusing the "smoke anywhere" mentality that a lot of these things are marketed with," Mitchell said.
For his part, Northup said he thinks the Utah law banning e-cigarettes in public isn’t all that bad.
"I agree with that law, and I try to stay reasonable with that. In my car, at my house, if I go park or shop or anything, I don't use it. Because it is vapor a lot of people don't know what it is, they can be offended by it, 'Oh they're smoking a cigarette, that is harmful.' So in that aspect I do agree with that part of it," Northup said.
It’s still a new world for e-cigarette smokers. In the future, though, it’s pretty clear that public perception of e-cigarettes hinges on its health impact.