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Owners of District Charm Vapory, Laura Greeley, left, and Rachel R. Alexander, smoke from a few of the vaporizers they sell in their store in Pigtown. (The Daily Record/Maximilian Franz)

Proposal fires up ‘vaping’ advocates

Council measure would treat e-smoking devices like tobacco

Vince Shaffer used to smoke four packs of cigarettes a day. Now, he says, he’s nicotine-free, and the smell of cigarette smoke makes him sick.

Adam Fordham burned through two packs a day for nearly three decades. But, the 49-year-old said, he just passed the one-year mark since his last puff.

Rachel Alexander was also a heavy smoker; she says she’s coming up on a year of no cigarettes.

The three Baltimoreans have something in common: They all switched to “vaping,” and they’ve all opened shops to sell the electronic, vapor-producing devices they swear helped them quit tobacco.

But these products — e-cigarettes are the most common — are far more controversial outside the vaping community, as there’s been little conclusive research about the safety of the devices, which heat liquid into a vapor that users inhale.

The liquids, called e-juices, are available in hundreds of flavors and contain varying amounts of nicotine. They’re also available without nicotine.

Under current state law, vaping is generally allowed in public indoor places, although sales to minors are prohibited.

But the city of Baltimore might become the first jurisdiction in Maryland to treat e-cigarettes just like their tobacco-filled cousins. Councilman James B. Kraft introduced a bill Monday that would extend the restrictions on the use and sale of tobacco to electronic smoking devices.

E-cigarettes would be banned inside public facilities, for example, and there’d be regulations on how the products can be displayed in stores.

The bill will be reviewed by a City Council committee within the next few months before being put to a vote, Kraft said, adding he thinks the measure has widespread support in the council.

Some vape shop owners said e-cigarettes have become so popular they doubt the measure would have much impact on their business.

“Most of our customers aren’t just into vaping because they can do it inside a movie theater or the mall,” said Rachel Alexander, co-owner of District Charm Vapory, which opened in Pigtown a few weeks ago. “People do it to cut out the tobacco but still get the nicotine or because they like the sensation of smoking something.”

But Shaffer — who co-owns NettMix Custom Vapes & E-Cigs — said even though his Dundalk shop is outside city limits, new regulations would reduce demand for the product because he’s so close.

Fordham, who opened The Vapory in the Midtown neighborhood in July, also said regulating e-cigarettes might slightly reduce business. All three shop owners said they think it’s misleading to lump e-cigarettes together with tobacco products.

“Some people vape because they like the flavors of hookah but don’t want the nicotine and tobacco,” Alexander said. “My business partner vapes [liquid with] zero nicotine, so considering that the same as smoking tobacco is ridiculous to me.”

And Shaffer, who also uses liquids without nicotine, said equating e-cigarettes to tobacco cigarettes takes away the devices’ credibility as smoking cessation tools.

“It upsets me that this [bill] would force people who just quit cigarettes to go stand outside with the smokers if they want to vape,” he said. “It’s like taking the accomplishment away from somebody. This is something that’s actually helping people quit. If anything, we should encourage it.”

Kraft said in addition to health-related concerns for adult users, he worries vaping could be seen as glamorous — like smoking was years ago — and that children will be unable to distinguish between the two. He also said if vaping is allowed in places like stadiums, some people might try to get away with smoking tobacco.

A similar statewide bill died in a General Assembly committee earlier this year — probably because there isn’t enough evidence about e-cigarettes’ health effects, said Kathleen Hoke, director of the Legal Resource Center for Public Health Policy at the University of Maryland.

Electronic cigarettes are restricted in some areas of the state, though. Harford County prohibits the devices on all county-owned property. They’ve also been banned by several hospitals and county school systems.

Baltimore County education officials are working to ban the products by this fall, Hoke said, adding she “wouldn’t be surprised” if the Maryland State Board of Education soon does the same.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration released a proposal last week to regulate the ingredients and ban the sale of e-cigarettes to minors (some states did not prohibit those sales). It’s unclear whether those rules will move forward.

Even though the health effects of vaping are unknown, advocates say they’re satisfied knowing it’s the lesser of two evils.

“There are four ingredients in e-cigarettes compared to the 4,000 in tobacco cigarettes,” Fordham said. “My cat can look at those two lists and figure out which is safer.”

But Kraft isn’t so sure.

“I would rather err on the side of caution and just include these products under our existing tobacco regulations,” Kraft said. “If at some point in the future, we do have additional scientific evidence, then we can go back and review it.”