The city of Black River Falls is mulling whether to add electronic cigarettes to its indoor smoking ban.

Alderperson Tony Chojnacki brought the proposal to the city council last week and said he supports the electronic devices being treated the same as regular tobacco cigarettes in the local ordinance.

Chojnacki said he began contemplating the issue after hearing that a Black River Falls taxi cab driver was cited after smoking in his vehicle but later argued in court he was using an electronic cigarette and therefore was wrongfully cited.

“It would be easier on the government for managing it,” Chojnacki said. “From just an enforcement standpoint, a lot of places are going to it … but my thought basically was if somebody is breaking the law, then you don’t have to ask what kind of cigarette they were using.”

Electronic cigarettes, also referred to as e-cigarettes or vape pens, are battery-powered devices that simulate smoking by vaporizing a liquid solution and emitting aerosol that resembles smoke.

The devices aren’t included under BRF’s indoor smoking ban ordinance, which mimics the state law enacted in 2010 that bans smoking in indoor areas, like bars, taverns and restaurants. Some municipalities are looking to add e-cigarettes to ordinances to ban their use where smoking is prohibited, but the trend appears fairly new, said BRF City Attorney Dan Diehn.

“It looks like (banning e-cigarette use) is a relatively new trend, but it seems to be catching on and gaining steam,” he said. “My thought is that it seems to me from the limited research I’ve done that there does seem to be some emerging medical information that second-hand smoke from these cigarettes is harmful.

“Assuming that’s true, it seems to make sense to add e-cigarettes to all indoor smoking bans.”

Kristi Hanson, a Jackson County public health nurse, said e-cigarettes contain more than just water vapor and can contain nicotine, ultra-fine particles and other harmful ingredients. The devices commonly are filled with flavored liquid in options like grape, root beer and cookies and cream, which can make them attractive to youth.

There also have been reports in the U.S. of nicotine overdoses as a result of using the devices and there is a common belief that e-cigarette use helps with quitting regular tobacco cigarettes, which isn’t the case, Hanson said.

“I think we are concerned. We want to educate people that these are not regulated and haven’t been proven safe,” she said. “They’re not approved to help smokers quit … When they came out, that is how the cigarette companies are marketing them, but that is not (the case).”

Chojnacki said he supports an ordinance change because of enforcement issues, but he also noted the common belief that e-cigarettes help with quitting tobacco cigarettes.

“Health-wise, (e-cigarettes) are still getting the nicotine, and I believe originally, c-cigarettes were brought about to help you quit smoking, but over the progression of things, it really hasn’t,” he said. “(E-cigarette users) keep smoking as much.”

If Black River Falls adopts an e-cigarette indoor ban, it would mimic the city of Onalaska, which this summer prohibited electronic cigarette use anywhere where smoking already is banned.

The BRF City Council briefly discussed the possibility of adding e-cigarettes to the indoor smoking ordinance at its meeting last week. Diehn now will formulate a draft ordinance that the council is scheduled to consider at the Committee of the Whole meeting on Sept. 17.

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