Champaign council not yet ready to regulate e-cigarette market

Champaign council not yet ready to regulate e-cigarette market

CHAMPAIGN — The city council isn't prepared to take significant steps to regulate vaping or the sale of electronic nicotine delivery systems just yet.

But during a study session Tuesday, council members agreed the city should do something to regulate products high in nicotine and support efforts to curb nicotine addiction in teenagers, and directed staff to draft an ordinance banning e-cigarette use where tobacco cigarettes are not allowed.

Carle pediatrician Jon Youakim was one of the attendees working to help them reach that conclusion.

"The main issue with e-cigs is that people feel that they're safe when they're not. They still have a lot of harmful effects," Youakim said. "One thing that bothers me too is that a lot of these kids are getting them at convenience stores. And when kids start with high-nicotine devices like Juul, they get highly addicted."

Youakim was just one of the several local health officials, educators and vape-shop owners who spoke Tuesday. Some warned council members about what they see as the dangers of e-cigarette use, while others urged officials to seek more information before regulating such a new market.

Summer Phillips, outreach coordinator for the Douglas County Health Department, called the use of e-cigarettes among youth an "epidemic." She said she's currently working with 26 area high school students who are "in a desperate situation." But she warned that more stringent regulations on e-cigarettes and other nicotine delivery systems may do more harm than good, and prevent people who are trying to quit cigarettes from having a less harmful alternative.

"The way the school code reads, the 26 students have been caught and put in in-school suspension and out-of-school suspension," Phillips said of students in Douglas County. "And now some are facing the fact they may not graduate from high school because they're addicted to nicotine."

Phillips said there's no process in place for dealing with increasing addiction among children, because many stop-smoking methods such as patches and nicotine gum have regulations that ban their use by teens. She said, currently, the best way to help a teen addict quit is counseling, which may not be effective for heavily addicted people.

Scott Shull, owner of Vape Vault, said his business has nothing to do with Juul, which currently accounts for about three quarters of the e-cigarette market. He said putting taxes on the cigarette alternatives or raising age limits will only hurt adult users who are trying to quit smoking.

"I have had customers come into the store who have children addicted to the Juul device," Shull said. "I had a mom come in with their child to get a vape to get them off of nicotine. Because of currently legal reasons, I'm unable to sell it to them because I know it's going to a minor."

Both council member Greg Stock and Centennial High School teacher Bill Behrends said the Champaign Unit 4 school district doesn't currently have cohesive rules on vaping at school. Stock insinuated there "might be stealth efforts" by school officials to draft policies on vaping, but as a staff member, he said he's unaware of what that could be.

"I can tell you that we're very unclear and inconsistent in how we deal with e-cigs," Behrends said. "I had a colleague say he had a student vape in the middle of class. It's a growing concern, but we need more guidance in terms of how to proceed."

Council members elected to study vaping further, with Mayor Deb Feinen and others urging city staff once again to bring them a study session looking at all fines currently on the books.

Council member Matt Gladney said he'd happily consider fines for vaping once all other fines and regulations are settled.

"This can come back, but I want it bundled with underage drinking fines, cigarette fines, and look at all the fines we have on things," Gladney said. "I'm not ready to go full bore to draft an ordinance tonight. I'll be very clear that I'm concerned about vaping. But I feel like instead of rushing into it because we feel like we need to do something, we should pull back and collect some more information."

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