Law hazy concerning e-cigarettes

As the statewide smoking ban in bars and casinos approaches its three-month anniversary, more smokers in Bozeman are turning toward electronic cigarettes as a way to get their fix from the comfort of their barstool.

Robyn DeMasi, manager of the tobacco shop chain Smoker Friendly in Bozeman, said there has been an uptick in sales of the product since the ban went into effect.

“There definitely has been,” she said. “People are looking for an alternative way to ‘smoke’ where they can’t now.

“A lot of that has been in the last three months.”

State health officials have backed down from their initial stance that e-cigarettes are illegal to use inside any public building under the Montana Clean Indoor Air Act that went into effect Oct. 1.

But the state is far from endorsing the products that the Food and Drug Administration says deliver at least one carcinogen to users, and hopes the federal government prevails in a lawsuit that would bring e-cigarettes under stricter regulation nationwide.

“This could be a public health problem, so we’re going to keep an eye on it and do what we can to discourage folks from using it,” said Linda Lee, Montana Tobacco Use Prevention Program supervisor at the Department of Health and Human Services.

When the law first went into effect, Lee told the Billings Gazette that e-cigarettes were considered by the department’s attorney as a “smokeable product” and banned indoors.

“For now, we see them as covered under the law,” Lee said in early October.

But Lee said that stance was brought into question, and the department has backed away.

“We, at this point, don’t feel that we can go into a place and say, ‘You’re using e-cigarettes. That’s a violation of the Clean Indoor Air Act,’” she said. “But at the same time, we’d like to.”

E-cigarettes work like this: Users put a solution in a cartridge, and then inhale. That draws the solution through a battery-operated vaporizer, replicating the smoke from a cigarette.

The FDA tested leading e-cigarette brands and found the vapor contains “carcinogens and toxic chemicals such as diethylene glycol, an ingredient used in antifreeze,” according to a press release announcing its lawsuit against e-cigarette manufacturers.

The federal agency is suing e-cigarette manufacturers, because the devises are being sold with no health warnings and are not regulated by the FDA.

Several tobacco shops surveyed by the Chronicle said they were not ordering e-cigarettes until the lawsuits are settled.

And Lee said she is quick to point out the lawsuit to people curious about the legality of e-cigarettes.

“Whenever a bar owner calls me, I give them a very long diatribe, saying that this is held up in a lawsuit,” she said.

But not everyone is shying away from carrying the device.

DeMasi said her store started stocking e-cigarettes n which retail for roughly $70 n six months ago, and since then have sold 20.

Jeremy Weiner, Smoker Friendly’s sales and marking manager in Denver, said the corporation began selling them a year ago.

“Everywhere we’ve put it, 85 percent of our stores, it’s done very well,” he said.

December 25, 2009

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