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Dr. Robert Brookland, chair of radiation oncology at the Greater Baltimore Medical Center, speaks at a press conference held on Tuesday, Nov. 25, urging Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake to veto a bill passed by the City Council that would allow the use of e-cigarettes in some businesses. Also shown are (from left) Bonita Pennino, government relations director for the Cancer Action Network, and Del. Barbara Frush, who also spoke out against the bill. (The Daily Record/Alissa Gulin)

‘Vaping’ foes to push for statewide ban

Mayor says she will sign bill to allow e-cigarettes

Some public health advocates are calling on Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake to veto a bill passed by the City Council that would allow e-cigarettes to be used in consenting bars, restaurants and casinos.

The bill also allows “vaping” — the use of electronic smoking devices — inside specialty vape shops, but it bans the practice inside all other public buildings and on playgrounds. Establishments that want to allow patrons to use the devices would have to post notices informing customers of that decision.

Representatives of the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network held a news conference Tuesday morning to discuss their reasons for urging Rawlings-Blake to nix the bill, which was passed by the council last week.

Bonita Pennino, government relations director for the organization, argued the bill is a step backward for Baltimore and that it doesn’t go far enough to protect citizens, particularly employees in the service industry who may be exposed to the vapors emitted from the devices.

The research community has yet to reach a consensus about the harm or safety of the vapors emitted from e-cigarettes. But a spokeswoman for Rawlings-Blake said the mayor has made up her mind: She intends to sign the bill.

Spokeswoman Caron Brace said the mayor preferred the original draft of the legislation, which would have banned e-cigarettes everywhere traditional cigarettes are prohibited. The bill was amended, though, to allow certain businesses to permit vaping.

Pennino and others at Tuesday’s press conference blamed that move on the influence of “big tobacco.”

When asked why she would rather have no bill than have the bill that is currently on Rawlings-Blake’s desk, Pennino said codifying a partial ban on e-cigarettes is a “slippery slope.”

“It’s a bad bill,” she said. “Allowing people to use e-cigarettes in any setting is not a good idea. This bill needs to be scrapped. We can come back and look at it another day.”

Even if it takes years to get a full ban passed?

“Yes — as long as it takes to get a good bill to protect everybody,” Pennino said. “No one should be left out of the protections. No one.”

Del. Barbara Frush, who sponsored Maryland’s Clean Indoor Air Act enacted in 2007, attended the press conference and announced her intent to introduce state legislation that would ban e-cigarettes in all public places.

Frush said she hasn’t drafted any legislation yet, and that she couldn’t speculate on the chances of such a bill passing the legislature. She also said she could not gauge whether Gov.-elect Larry Hogan would support such a measure.

A similar bill died in a committee of the General Assembly earlier this year, but Frush, who represents Anne Arundel and Prince George’s counties, said she’s hopeful the new crop of legislators elected this month will be more receptive.

E-cigarette users fill their devices with flavored liquids that usually contain nicotine. The devices heat the liquid into a vapor that users inhale.

It’s unclear whether those vapors are harmful to users, but Dr. Robert Brookland, chair of radiation oncology at the Greater Baltimore Medical Center, said he thinks vaping is dangerous to users and people around them.

Brookland, who volunteers with the Cancer Action Network and who spoke at the press conference, said it’s the government’s responsibility to protect Marylanders from secondhand exposure. Brookland and others said that means banning the devices everywhere — including restaurants, bars and casinos.

“The Maryland way is to protect all workers, not just office workers,” Frush said.

About Alissa Gulin

Alissa Gulin covers health care, education and general business at The Daily Record.