Olathe has officially added e-cigarettes to its smoking ban.
The city council approved the change, without much discussion. The vote came nearly two months after the council’s first vote on the issue.
On Nov. 18, the council voted 3-2 to make the inclusion in its Indoor Clean Air Ordinance with councilmen John Bacon and Larry Campbell opposing. Councilmen Wes McCoy and Jim Randall were absent for the vote. But the change required at least four affirmative votes for it to be valid, forcing the council to vote again this week, when all council members would be present.
At the November meeting, one of the biggest concerns among council members was that there wasn’t any conclusive evidence about the second-hand health risks from e-cigarettes, which are electronic or battery-powered vaporizers that simulate tobacco smoking.
Councilwoman Marge Vogt had pointed out that because the health risks aren’t known yet, it was better to err on the side of caution.
When the council voted Tuesday, Bacon and Campbell were still the only two against the ban.
The decision disappointed a handful of e-cigarette enthusiasts who attended the meeting. After the vote, they congregated outside the council chambers to vent.
All of them are former smokers who made the switch within the last few years.
“Some people say e-cigarettes normalize smoking, but they actually normalize quitting,” said Eric McPhearson, owner of Shawnee’s Flatland Vapes. “You can choose your level of nicotine and eventually wean off it altogether. It’s a successful quitting option.”
He said that being able to vape in public places will actually be beneficial, because it will encourage other smokers to also make the switch.
Plus, e-cigarettes are green, the pro-vaporizers said.
“You’re not throwing cigarette butts on the ground or throwing away cigarette packs in the trash,” said Hugh Brown of Olathe. “And when you’re around cigarette smoke, your clothes smell and your eyes burn. Not the case with vaping.”
The American Nonsmokers’ Rights Foundation argues on its website that e-cigarettes are harmful. The vapor released is an aerosol full of toxins, the group says.
The rise in popularity for e-cigarettes has grown drastically in the last couple of years, said Brown, who runs Fountain City Vapor Club, which has more than 500 members.
Right now, he estimates that there are around 20 vapor stores in the Kansas City area. By next year, he believes there could be 60.
They worry, however, that Olathe’s ban could be a setback.
So far, Overland Park and Olathe are the only two cities in Johnson County to add e-cigarettes to their smoking ban. The vapor enthusiasts are concerned more cities in the area will follow suit.
They hope the bans don’t give the public a negative perception on e-cigarettes.
They said they’re already dealing with accusations that vaping will encourage nicotine use or that it’s being targeted to children because of the fruity flavors.
“When I have a customer who has never smoked or taken a nicotine-related product, I send them home,” McPhearson said. “And you can buy strawberry vodka and cherry tobacco chew anywhere.”
The men just hope that e-cigarette users will come out of the woodwork and stand together against more bans.