Seven stores specializing in e-cigarettes have opened in Madison, including Infinite Vapor, above. Mayor Paul Soglin and nine City Council members are proposing to add the vapor devices to the city's indoor smoking ban.

AMBER ARNOLD — State Journal archives

Mayor Paul Soglin and nine City Council members are proposing to add electronic cigarettes to Madison’s smoking ban, which prohibits smoking in most indoor places as well as posted areas of parks and beaches.

The measure, to be introduced Tuesday, comes amid growing availability of e-cigarettes, battery-powered devices that vaporize liquid nicotine. The devices aren’t covered by the state’s indoor smoking ban.

Proponents of e-cigarettes say their lack of tar and carbon monoxide make them a healthier alternative to regular cigarettes. Opponents say e-cigarette emissions can contain heavy metals and could be harmful to others.

The Food and Drug Administration has proposed regulating e-cigarettes as tobacco products, banning sales to minors and requiring warning labels.

“We don’t know what’s in that vapor and we don’t know if it affects the environment or the person sitting next to you,” said Ald. Lauren Cnare, 3rd District, lead sponsor of the proposal. “There’s no evidence this stuff is clean and pure.”

But there’s no evidence the vapor is harmful to others, said Kevin DeBauch, owner of Huffle Puff Vapors, one of seven stores specializing in e-cigarettes that have opened in the Madison area this year. The devices are also sold in convenience stores.

“Without proof, I think this is just a knee-jerk reaction that will get in the way of people using these devices to quit smoking (regular) cigarettes,” DeBauch said.

Doug Jorenby, clinical services director at UW-Madison’s Tobacco Center for Tobacco Research and Intervention, told the State Journal in September that “it’s a no-brainer” that switching from regular cigarettes to e-cigarettes reduces harm to the user. But the science on secondhand vapor isn’t clear, he said.

Health advocates say smokers should try proven cessation tools, such as medications, and nicotine patches and gums. The advocates don’t support any kind of smoking, said Dona Wininsky, spokeswoman for the American Lung Association in Wisconsin.

“We don’t want to be re-normalizing smoking behavior,” Wininsky said.

Wisconsin’s indoor smoking ban, which took effect in 2010, bans smoking in bars, restaurants, private clubs, schools, hotels, clinics and other workplaces. It doesn’t apply to e-cigarettes, or “vaping,” according to the state Department of Health Services.

A bill by state Sen. Glenn Grothman, R-West Bend, to specifically exclude e-cigarettes from the state’s smoking ban failed to pass this spring. Grothman won a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives this month, as Republicans gained more seats in the state Legislature and retained Scott Walker as governor.

Health advocates are concerned that Grothman’s bill could be introduced again, said Ryan Sheahan, tobacco control program manager for Public Health Madison and Dane County.

Ashwaubenon, Greenfield and Onalaska added e-cigarettes to their indoor smoking bans this year, said Sara Sahli with the Wisconsin chapter of the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network.

Appleton, Eau Claire and Neenah banned the devices on city property, and the counties of Eau Claire, Fond du Lac, Manitowoc and Marquette banned them on county property, Sahli said.

Madison’s smoking ordinance, passed in 2004, bans smoking in most indoor settings and in posted areas of beaches and parks. It has a $100 citation for a first offense and $500 for second and subsequent offenses within a year.

Vilas Zoo is the only park area with a year-round posted smoking ban, parks superintendent Eric Knepp said. City beaches are posted seasonally when lifeguards are on duty, Knepp said.

The proposal to add e-cigarettes to the ordinance is scheduled to be introduced to the City Council on Tuesday, after which it will be referred to committees and be decided by the council at a later date.

With support already from Soglin, Cnare and eight other council members, the proposal would need only one more vote to win passage by the 20-member body.

— Reporter Dean Mosiman contributed to this report


David Wahlberg is the health and medicine reporter for the Wisconsin State Journal.