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Fort Worth councilman wants to curb e-cigs for minors

Fort Worth City Councilman Joel Burns wants the city to curb the use of electronic cigarettes by minors, a growing, but some say dangerous, trend.

Burns had already asked city staff to review “legal means to curtail and curb access by minors” in Fort Worth before the release of a study last week that says adolescents who use the devices are more likely to smoke real cigarettes and less likely to quit smoking than kids who do not use e-cigs.

After the presentation by city staff, he hopes to bring proposed changes to the city’s health code to his council colleagues before he leaves the council this summer.

“They [minors] are not even done growing yet, and they are already getting hooked on what is not a healthy thing,” Burn said. “Just because it is electronic and doesn’t necessarily have all the bad stuff as a regular cigarette does not mean it is a good thing.”

Electronic cigarettes, or e-cigs, are battery-powered devices that provide nicotine and other additives to users and are not restricted at the state or federal level for minors.

A study by the Center for Tobacco Research and Education at the University of California in San Francisco analyzed data collected by National Youth Tobacco Survey, a survey given to middle school and high school students in 2011 and 2012.

The study states that though the data does not identity whether most youths are initiating smoking with conventional cigarettes and then moving on to e-cigarettes or vice versa, use of the devices was associated with higher odds of current or ever smoking.

“Our results suggest that e-cigarettes are not discouraging use of conventional cigarettes … e-cigarette use is associated with established cigarette smoking and lower rates of abstinence from conventional cigarettes,” the study states.

Burns, who has represented District 9 since 2008, announced his resignation at the Feb. 11 council meeting to obtain a Mid-Career Master in Public Administration at the Harvard Kennedy School in Massachusetts.

Bill Begley, spokesman for the city, said the legal department “is looking at it and trying to decide how to address the questions the council member put forth.”

A state and local issue

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration does not regulate e-cigs unless they are being used for therapeutic purposes, leaving regulation to states or local governments.

The FDA website also states, however, that the use of e-cigarettes have not been fully studied, and that consumers do not know the potential risk of the devices, how much nicotine and other harmful chemicals are being inhaled and if there are any benefits.

The FDA website also says it is unknown if e-cigs will lead young people to try other tobacco products.

In light of the uncertainties, several school districts and cities have either banned or are considering regulating the sale of the devices to minors.

The Fort Worth school district banned the use of e-cigs on district property for both adults and children in a 6-0 vote at their Feb. 25 meeting.

The DeSoto school district has a similar policy, and the Arlington school district prohibits possession or inhalation of e-cigs during school-related or sponsored events.

The Arlington City Council has also examined the possibility of regulations of selling e-cigs to minors but has yet to take any action.

Cities like Rockwall and Murphy have banned the sale of e-cigs to minors, and Richardson requires special-use permits for e-cig shops.

Last month, the city of Frisco banned the use of e-cigs where smoking is also prohibited. The city also blocked the sale of the devices to minors.

States take a stand

Several states are also taking action, with bills banning the sale of e-cigs to minors going through the Kentucky, Michigan and Oklahoma legislative process.

“This is a quality-of-life thing, and it is about the health of Fort Worth,” Burns said, who also wants to look into expanding the smoking ban in Fort Worth to bars. Currently, if a business makes more than 50 percent of its revenue on alcohol, patrons are allowed to smoke on the premises.

“A healthy city includes being able to offer any establishment protection regardless of what their percent of alcohol to food sales is,” Burns said, adding that it is a health issue for the employees of these businesses and the patrons.

This story includes information from the Star-Telegram archives.