When is a cigarette not really a cigarette? With the growth in electronic cigarette (“e-cigarette”) use continuing, members of the Hillsboro City Council have weighed in — and they are coming down on the side of classifying e-cigarettes as tobacco products.

With a 5-1 vote Tuesday evening — Fred Nachtigal was the sole “no” vote — council members took the initial step in making sure e-cigarettes are included in existing “no smoking” bans that apply in the city’s parks and recreational facilities.

Tuesday’s vote was preliminary, with a second and final vote on the issue scheduled for the council’s July 1 meeting.

Upon final approval, e-cigarettes would be in the same category as traditional cigarettes.

The city council took up the measure at the request of the Parks & Recreation Commission, which last week voted unanimously to support a ban on e-cigarettes in city parks.

“The whole mission ties into health and wellness. As more information comes out, it makes sense to add e-cigarettes in as part of our ‘no smoking’ policy,” said Mary Loftin, community resources manager for the Hillsboro Parks & Recreation Department. “There is still a lot of study going on, but there are known toxins in the vapor. And the long-term effects are still unknown.”

Carla Bennett, tobacco prevention and education program coordinator with the Washington County Health & Human Services Department, met with representatives of the city’s parks department and offered suggestions for the wording of a possible e-cigarette ban.

“Electronic cigarettes and electronic smoking devices are not regulated by the FDA (Food & Drug Administration) and have not been proven safe,” Bennett explained. “Electronic smoking devices are encouraged to be included in current and future smoke-free and tobacco-free policies, as there is evidence to show the aerosol, or vapor, contains carcinogens and other toxic chemicals.

“Including electronic cigarettes into policies that prohibit smoking and tobacco use also helps to reduce complaints and confusion in enforcement of the Oregon Indoor Clean Air Act, as many electronic cigarettes are designed to look like conventional cigarettes.”

However, not everyone agreed with the move to ban e-cigarettes in the city’s parks.

Tomi Deveraux, a Hillsboro resident and a nurse for 13 years, said putting restrictions on e-cigarettes will make it tougher for some people to give up tobacco.

“E-cigarettes are saving lives,” Deveraux told the city council members after they had voted. “Limiting the use of e-cigarettes or providing a ban around this product makes it easier for them to be looked at in a negative light. Nicotine isn’t what kills; it’s a stimulant, not a carcinogen. I believe in the health aspects of this.”

Deveraux said she had smoked for 20 years, and e-cigarettes were a big factor in helping her quit.

“This is something that’s working,” she explained. “Every hit e-cigarettes take is another reason people may decide not to quit smoking. Putting us in a smoking corner is putting a scarlet letter back on us for a product that is completely different. We’re not smoking. Nothing is burning.”

In a June 10 memorandum, Ken Pipher, program and support manager for the Hillsboro Parks & Recreation Department, explained why the use of e-cigarettes needed to be more strictly regulated.

“Electronic cigarettes, commonly referred to as e-cigarettes, are battery-operated devices that deliver liquid nicotine to a user and emit a chemical vapor into the surrounding environment upon exhalation,” read an excerpt of Pipher’s memorandum. “One of the primary goals of the Parks & Recreation Department is to promote health and wellness in our community, and staff believes that the use of e-cigarettes is contradictory to this goal for both the patron using the device and others nearby.”

Pipher’s memorandum offered another reason to add e-cigarettes to the list of prohibited activities in city parks: “Spectators at events can mistake the e-cigarettes for traditional cigarettes and assume that it is allowable for them to start smoking.”

A proposed ban on e-cigarettes was considered by the city’s Parks & Recreation Commissioners on June 10.

“They gave a unanimous vote in favor,” Loftin said. “Five of the seven commissioners were present at the June 10 meeting, and all expressed support.”

Loftin said the commissioners recommended that “the use of any form of tobacco or tobacco-related products, including electronic cigarettes and other nicotine vaporizing devices,” be added to a list of prohibited activities in park properties.

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