Clark County Bans Sale Of E-cigarettes To Minors

Selling electronic cheap cigarettes -- the plastic-and-metal cigarette lookalikes that puff vaporized nicotine -- to minors will be illegal in Clark County.

The county commissioners, acting as the county's Board of Health, approved the measure on Monday. Public health officials feared the e-cigarettes, which come in fruit and candy flavors, were being marketed to young people.

Many e-cigarettes are designed to look like real cigarettes, complete with a red light at the end to simulate burning tobacco. But instead of tobacco, the battery-powered devices contain a replaceable nicotine solution cartridge, and users puff on the vapor rather than smoke.

The e-cigarettes don't produce tar and carbon monoxide like real cigarettes, nor secondhand smoke. They usually do contain nicotine, the addictive substance in cigarettes. They haven't been fully evaluated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, but testing in 2009 found dangers including carcinogens and a toxic chemical used in antifreeze.

The ordinance would prohibit selling e-cigarettes to anyone under 18. Originally, a draft ordinance banned their use in public places where online cigarettes are prohibited, but the county commissioners opted to leave that up to business owners.

Much of the debate had nothing to do with e-cigarettes. Commissioner Tom Mielke objected to language in the ordinance that read “exposure to secondhand smoke cigarettes is known to cause cancer in humans.” The section continued to list other risks associated with secondhand smoke.

“I think the jury's still out on that,” Mielke said. “On the Internet, I found there were conflicting statements and facts.”

The language is in the ordinance because the county included language adopting provisions of state law banning smoking cigarettes in public places, and it directs the public health department to enforce those laws.

“We're using this as a vehicle to implement the state law,” County Administrator Bill Barron said.

Dr. Alan Melnick, the county's health officer, assured Mielke the body of research concludes that secondhand smoke cigarettes causes cancer and other diseases, like asthma.

But Mielke asked that the section be removed. Commissioner Marc Boldt, the other commissioner present, agreed to strike it.

“I guess I would be on the doctor's side, but I want to pass the ordinance,” he said.

Mielke and Boldt approved the ordinance without the secondhand smoke cigarettes language. Commissioner Steve Stuart, the board's third member, was absent.

The ordinance takes effect Thursday.

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