CITY HALL — The City Council on Wednesday voted to prohibit the use of e-cigarettes indoors or in public places, and voted to ban the sale of the devices to minors.
In approving a series of restrictions that will treat e-cigarettes like other tobacco products, the council also voted to allow the city to license e-cigarette vendors.
Many aldermen acknowledged the uncertainty of health risks associated with e-cigarettes but said they wanted to be "on the right side of history" when it came to approving the new regulations.
The measure was approved on 45-4 vote, after a lengthy debate on the issue.
Ald. Brendan Reilly (42nd), an outspoken 'no' vote, said he believed the council was premature in restricting what he called an "alternative" for those trying to quit smoking.
Reilly, a self-admitted smoker, said he agreed with restricting children's access to e-cigarettes but said there simply is not enough research about the negative impacts of the product to ban e-cigarettes in all indoor and public places.
"We are talking about treating two different products like they are one," Reilly said of e-cigarettes and traditional cigarettes.
But many other aldermen said they did not want to take the chance of exposing the public to the vapor given out by e-cigarettes.
And Ald. George Cardenas (12th) said he voted in favor of the ordinance because he believes e-cigarettes are marketed toward children and are "designed to hook teens on a product ... for life."
"This is nothing more than a Trojan horse of the tobacco companies," Cardenas said.
Mayor Rahm Emanuel, who pushed for approval of the new regulations, said the city could not afford to hold off on the new rules until seeing research from bodies like the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, as some aldermen suggested.
"The FDA leads from behind," Emanuel said. "When it comes to the people of the city of Chicago and the children of the city of Chicago, I do not believe we should wait.
"We are going to lead where the regulatory agencies have not," he said.
But others, including the Chicago-based Heartland Institute, criticized the restrictions as a "lazy and shortsighted approach toward regulating what is a very different product than cigarettes.
“E-cigarettes have far fewer consequences for personal and public health, and several studies have found e-cigarettes to be an effective and viable option for smokers seeking a nicotine replacement therapy," Matthew Glans, a senior policy analyst at the self-described "free-market think tank," said in a statement. "Adding e-cigarettes to the smoking ban only disrupts an increasingly popular and successful method of helping Chicagoans reduce smoking or quit altogether.”
But city healthcare advisors argued e-cigarettes still contain known toxins and warned of a "renormalizing" effect of smoking on children.
"This ordinance is about two things, and two things only," said the city's public health commissioner, Dr. Bechara Choucair. "It's about protecting our kids from picking up this habit, and it's about making sure that every resident in Chicago continues to have the right to enjoy clean, indoor air."
Research done by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that about 10 percent of middle school and high school students reported trying e-cigarettes in 2012, up from about 5 percent in 2011, Choucair said.
E-cigarette users will have until April 29 before the product is banned from public spaces and indoor places around the city. Restrictions on the sale of e-cigarettes will take effect in six months.
The Finance Committee and Health Committee voted Monday to send the measure to the City Council for approval. Those votes came after the same committees put the ordinance on hold last month.
At the time, aldermen voiced concerns about "overreaching" on the issue, saying they were not convinced of the health risks of e-cigarettes.
Wednesday's vote is another step in city's push to further regulate tobacco. In December, the City Council voted to expand banning the sale of flavored tobacco products from 100 feet to 500 feet from a school. The measure was aimed particularly at discouraging children from smoking menthol cigarettes, which Emanuel dubbed as a way to get kids "hooked" on smoking.
Emanuel also recently raised the cigarette tax, from 68 cents to $1.43 per pack, in his 2014 budget, making Chicago's cigarette packs some of the most expensive in the nation.