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Tempe council votes to ban electronic cigarettes

(AP Photo/Wichita Falls Times Record News, Torin Halsey)

PHOENIX -- Tempe residents will soon need to find another alternative to electronic cigarettes if they want to smoke in a public place.

The city council voted 5-1, with one absent, Thursday night to ban e-cigarettes in the same ares where cigarettes are prohibited, including bars, restaurants, schools and other enclosed public areas.

"Traditional cigarettes have been banned in public places since 2002 and all we did was move e-cigarettes into the same classification," said Tempe Mayor Mark Mitchell.

The ban, which goes into effect Aug. 31, was passed after officials said the alternative means of smoking still pose a danger to public health.

"It was clear to us that e-cigarettes and the vapor that is emitted from them is likely a public health hazard," said Mitchell. "You're breathing in the vapor that's emitted from e-cigarettes that contains some levels of nicotine, some levels of toxins and formaldehyde."

However, Kolby Granville, the sole council member to vote against the proposal, said the city may have acted too soon.

"My main concern was we were banning something that we really had no understanding of the secondary effects," he said, noting there is some concern miniscule portions of the heating element may make their way into the vapor.

Andrew Hale, general manager of Innovative Vapors in Tempe, agreed with Granville. He said the devices are a healthier alternative to cigarettes, but public opinion does not differentiate.

"People view it as smoking," he said. "It looks like smoking. Because of that, we do struggle with (people) blatantly categorizing us with smokers."

A former smoker, Hale said he would gladly return to cigarettes if there was evidence that e-cigarettes also posed a risk.

"I would gladly give up my e-cigarette use and go back to cigarettes if I could find a single piece of peer-reviewed scientific evidence that said it was dangerous," he said.

Granville said the ban has illogical roots, since so much is still unknown about the effect of e-cigarettes on health. He compared it to Red Bull or vitamin supplements, both of which are extremely popular but have yet to be the focus of long-term health studies, yet they're legal.

Hale took the matter further, saying the classification of e-cigarettes as a tobacco product was inaccurate because the devices burn a mix of flavored water and nicotine. No tobacco is present.

Granville also said he voted against the law because Americans should have a right to choose if they want to use e-cigarettes.

"Liberty means anything," he said. "It means the ability to make choices that are bad for you personally but only affect you personally."

With the ban taking effect so soon, Hale said he has no doubt his sales will decrease.

"A lot of our customers, one of the reasons they go to e-cigarettes is that they're able to use them in areas that they typically wouldn't be able to smoke," he said.

Under current Arizona and Tempe law, smokers must be at least 20 feet from a doorway before lighting up. Smoking is permissible in certain businesses lacking a fully-enclosed space or that have a patio.

The ban does not spell the end of e-cigarettes in Tempe, however. Mitchell said the city is not banning them in private residences nor shops that sell the devices.

It is also not looking to restrict sales. Mitchell said, when the city became the first to ban cigarette use in 2002, it worked with businesses to lengthen patio area to allow for smoking areas.

There is also a chance the ban could be lifted. The Food and Drug Administration is researching the devices and could declare them safe. Granville said, should they get the all-clear, the city would be happy to revisit the issue.

KTAR's Cooper Rummell contributed to this report.

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