Up in vapor, not smoke

More and more cigarette smokers are taking a puff without ever lighting up. But just where they are allowed to take those puffs is still unclear.

Electronic cigarettes, or e-cigarettes, are being widely marketed a safer alternative to smoking and a means through which to quit the habit because they use water vapor and nicotine rather than tobacco. Because the new method is both smoke and tobacco-free, Ohio and West Virginia legislation banning smoking in certain public places does not apply.

Therefore, places that had previously banned cigarette usage are writing the rules as they go along when it comes to e-cigarettes.

At The Galley restaurant on Second Street in Marietta, a few customers have used the e-cigarettes inside and it has never caused a problem, said manager Jim O’Connell.

“We don’t really have any policy. If there is a person smoking one in our bar late at night, we’re not going to say anything to them,” said O’Connell.

“Smoking” an e-cigarette is a bit of a misnomer as the replacements do not produce actual smoke. Rather they produce a vapor.

While the vapor is likely much healthier than second hand smoke, little is known about the actual health effects of it at this time, pointed out Stephanie Davis from Selby General Hospital’s Tobacco Prevention Program.

“It’s all proprietary informative right now. Everything we know is coming from the companies who sell them and they are going to say it’s great,” she said.

In one recent incident in Oklahoma, a e-cigarette exploded while being charged, causing a small fire.

Overall the e-cigarettes do appear to be a healthier alternative to real cigarettes, but not the healthiest alternative, which is quitting altogether, said Davis.

The e-cigarettes cut back the over 2,000 ingredients and chemicals that are in tobacco. However, they still leave the nicotine.

“It’s still bad because it’s the nicotine which makes it addictive,” she said.

The e-cigs are also unregulated by the Food and Drug Administration and somewhat costly, she added.

Popular e-cigarette retailer Blu sells a starter pack, including five flavored e-cig cartridges, two batteries, two chargers, and a pack to hold them for $69.95.

But for some people, the cigarettes might be the key to quitting, David acknowledged.

Marietta resident Loretta Coe, 53, is proof of that. A smoker for nearly 40 years, Coe switched to e-cigarettes around 2 and a half months ago and has not had a cigarette since.

“I bought one and charged it up before I ran out of my last pack of cigarettes and went straight to the (e-cigarette) and haven’t went back since,” she said.

In fact, Coe plans on weaning herself of the e-cigarettes now and is already finding herself needing it less and less.

“I forget to smoke entirely sometimes. Or sometimes I just hold it in my hand and don’t smoke it,” she said.

Coe said that she has smoked the electronic device in a local bar without incident. However, a security guard at Camden Clark Medical Center recently asked her to stop smoking one on a bench outside the hospital.

“He was really nice about it. He just told me I wasn’t supposed to smoke it and that they were supposed to treat them the same as with a regular cigarette,” she said.

Tim Brunicardi, spokesman for Camden Clark Medical Center, said that the campus’ smoke-free ban includes the e-cigarettes.

Williamstown restaurant daVinci’s contacted their area health department and was told the e-cigarettes should be treated the same as real cigarettes.

“I had an employee ask if they could smoke it inside so I called our health department.. and they said absolutely not. In Wood County they need to be 15 feet from the building,” said general manager Chris Bender.

Some Ohio businesses have recently banned the e-cigs.

According to the Columbus Dispatch, the list of state entities to ban the product includes Bob Evans Farms restaurants, Nationwide Arena, the Schottenstein Center, the Greater Columbus Convention Center, Crew Stadium, and three of the state’s six casinos.

But most area businesses have not encountered the product enough to need to make a hard and fast decision.

At the House of Wines in Marietta, owner Sally Oliver, only knows one person who uses the device and is somewhat wary of allowing the product to be used inside.

“I suppose I’d have to see if it made a smell or smoke,” she said.

However, Oliver said she did not have a problem with customers using the e-cigs in the outside patio area or the restaurant where many people eat.

Levee House Cafe owner David Hearing said he has never seen a customer produce an e-cigarette.

“Fortunately I haven’t had that problem,” he said.

Smoking is not allowed in the restaurant or on the adjoining patio, he said.

But since the smoking ban does not legally apply to the e-cigarettes, Hearing worries he would have to allow it.

“You can’t tell someone to do something if it’s not illegal,” he surmised.