Duvall and McDowell

Columbia City Councilmen Howard Duvall, left, and Ed McDowell talk on Jan. 8, 2019.

Columbia City Council has started the process of overhauling its 13-year-old smoking ordinance, to include the possibility of banning the use of e-cigarettes in places where traditional smoking is prohibited.

Council opened formal discussions on the matter Jan. 8, and at-large Council members Howard Duvall and Tameika Isaac Devine are set to begin sharpening a formal ordinance to bring before the full Council in coming months.

The city’s current smoking ordinance was adopted in 2006. Among other things, it outlaws smoking in indoor workplaces, including bars and restaurants. That current ordinance defines smoking as “inhaling, exhaling, burning, lighting or carrying of a lighted cigarette, cigar, pipe, or similar device or any other lighted tobacco product.”

But now the Council, spearheaded by Duvall, is hoping to also ban the use of e-cigarettes — such as the wildly popular JUUL devices — in indoor workplaces, and possibly elsewhere.

Columbia Mayor Steve Benjamin tells Free Times that adding e-cigarettes to the city’s smoking ban is “worth serious consideration.”

“Watching the rise of e-cigarettes as a potential gateway to harmful behaviors that could harm our children for years to come, this is something thoughtful, progressive and pro-business cities ought to be thinking about,” the mayor says. “Our priority is to protect the health and safety of our citizens.”

The mayor says the landscape of smoking (or vaping) devices has changed “dramatically” since 2006 and that the city needs to adjust accordingly.

Duvall tells Free Times he and Devine and attorneys from the city’s staff are going to work on a formal ordinance proposal, and will likely bring that back before Council in February. While he notes that getting e-cigarettes included in the city’s smoking ban language was the catalyst the discussion, he says there will likely be other expansions of the smoking ban.

For instance, the coming ordinance would likely make outdoor dining areas in the city smoke- and vape-free. The city’s parks could also become tobacco-free.

And, Duvall says, there remains the possibility that outdoor events, like Soda City Market, could also be made smoke-free. While Duvall says he is in favor of smoking and vaping being banned at such events, he acknowledges others on Council may feel differently.

Benjamin, for one, expressed reservations about making outdoor events smoke-free.

“I think you have to be very careful when you get on the outdoor side, in the public right of way,” the mayor tells Free Times. “You have to be very careful. That gives me some pause.”

During a Jan. 8 Council discussion, conversation shifted wildly at times, roping in a wide array of smoking or tobacco related topics.

For instance, sixth-term District 1 Councilman Sam Davis shared a story about a time he was at a party and saw some people smoking from a hookah.

“You sure it was shisha [tobacco] and not wild parsley?” Councilman Daniel Rickenmann asked Davis.

“I have no idea, because I got the hell out of there,” Davis shot back.

Benjamin says it will be important that the smoking ordinance rehaul not go too far. He discouraged Council from taking a “buckshot” approach.

“We need to make sure this is not some over-reaching ordinance that makes it very difficult to comply with,” the mayor says. “We need to be very clear on what our goals are. Our goals are to protect young people and our citizens and help them live longer, more prosperous and healthy lives.”

The use of e-cigarettes has exploded, particularly among teens. For example, according to the SC Department of Health and Environmental Control’s 2017 South Carolina Youth Tobacco Survey, the percentage of high school students currently using e-cigarettes has eclipsed those using traditional cigarettes, 13 percent to 12 percent. It marked the first time vaping had surpassed traditional cigarettes among that age group.

South Carolina Tobacco-Free Collaborative Deputy Director Ian Hamilton tells Free Times he is in favor of vaping being added to the city’s smoking ban, and wants there to be more smoke- and vape-free places in Columbia.

“We would love to see the city and the county, really all communities in South Carolina, commit to protecting as many people as possible from secondhand smoke and secondhand aerosol,” Hamilton says. “We know the most people are protected when we have smoke-free and tobacco-free environments.”

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