ONALASKA — It looks as though users of e-cigarettes can continue “vaping” at their favorite Onalaska bars, but city-owned property, including City Hall and the Onalaska OmniCenter, will be off-limits.
At its monthly meeting Tuesday, the Onalaska Common Council gave initial approval to an ordinance update that would ban use of e-cigarettes in city-owned buildings, with council member Jack Pogreba casting the lone dissenting vote.
“It’s not harmful for anybody to be around it,” Pogreba said.
Another ordinance revision proposed treating e-cigarettes like traditional cigarettes, banning them wherever cigarette smoking is banned. The council backed away from that move, though, voting 4-2 for an ordinance without any reference to “electornic smoking devices.” Harvey Bertrand and Bob Muth cast dissenting votes.
“If we’re going to err, I strongly believe we should err on the side of safety,” Bertrand said. He noted that reports of poisoning from the liquid nicotine used in e-cigarettes rose from 269 in 2011 to 1,414 last year, with 631 reports in the first three months of this year.
Pogreba acknowledged e-cigarettes could be harmful. “So is bleach,” he said. “If you use it improperly, anything can be harmful.”
City Attorney Sean Flaherty noted state law is unclear on whether e-cigarettes should be treated the same as cigars, cigarettes and pipes.
E-cigarettes are rising in popularity, and as of the beginning of the year three states and more than 100 municipalities had banned their use in smokefree environments, according to Americans for Nonsmokers’ Rights.
Judi Zabel, a health educator with the La Crosse County Health Department, was in the audience at the council meeting and expressed concern afterward that some council members had not done their homework about the potential dangers posed by e-cigarettes.
“There needs to be some appropriate education and accurate education,” Zabel said. “There’s lots of information and nobody really knows how to sort it through.”