City of Houston Bans E-Cigarettes, Vaping in Public Spaces

The same rules that apply to cigarettes and cigars now extend to vaping devices and e-cigarettes in Houston.
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Vaping and the use of electronic cigarettes is now banned in public spaces throughout the city of Houston, after the city council unanimously approved an amendment to its existing ordinance on Wednesday.

According to Houston Public Media, the city’s “existing rules prohibit smoking in an enclosed public space or workplace, within 25 feet of a building entrance or exit, outdoor arenas and public transit stops,” and now “those rules are extended to electronic smoking devices, which include electronic cigarettes and cigars, vapes and any other device that uses vapors or aerosol liquids.”

The change was originally “proposed last year by the Houston Health Department in response to a growing scientific consensus on the dangers of vaping,” according to the Houston Chronicle. Now, they are officially in effect. 

The newspaper reported that the approved amendment “adds all types of e-cigarette devices—vape pens, electronic pipes and hookahs, among others—to the smoking ban, which bars cigarettes from enclosed public places and seating areas and within 25 feet of any building.” Those new rules took effect immediately following the vote on Wednesday, according to the Houston Chronicle. They do not apply to hookah bars or other spots where smoking is already legally permitted.

The city council heard testimonials from various individuals who sounded the alarm on the dangers of vaping, which is often billed as a safer alternative to cigarettes despite a paucity of evidence to support the assertion that it is in fact safer. 

Houston Public Media reported that during a public comment session before the council on Tuesday, “Dr. Lindy McGee, a pediatrician at Texas Children’s Hospital and assistant professor at Baylor College of Medicine, said she was concerned about the rise in vaping among her patients. She believed electronic cigarette companies are intentionally marketing to teens.”

“Using social media, youth-enticing flavors and highly addictive nicotine, they hooked this new generation on their product,” McGee said, as quoted by the outlet.

The Houston Chronicle said that members of the city council “touted the public health benefit of regulating e-cigarettes, which are filled with a liquid nicotine derived from tobacco that becomes an aerosol when the user inhales.

“Ultra-fine particles emitted by the vapor and toxins from the devices’ heating elements can increase a person’s risk of cardiovascular disease and cancer, federal studies suggest, even when nicotine-free vape liquid is used,” the Chronicle reported.

The use of electronic cigarette devices has exploded in recent years, particularly among young people. Earlier this month, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the Center for Disease Control and Prevention released findings from the 2021 National Youth Tobacco Survey (NYTS).

The survey found that “e-cigarettes were the most commonly used tobacco product” last year among high school and middle school students in the United States.

“E-cigarettes were the most commonly currently used tobacco product, cited by 2.06 million (7.6%) middle and high school students, followed by cigarettes (410,000; 1.5%), cigars (380,000; 1.4%), smokeless tobacco (240,000; 0.9%), hookahs (220,000; 0.8%) and nicotine pouches (200,000; 0.8%),” according to the survey.

Among students who reported using a tobacco product in the last 30 days, 39.4% said they used e-cigarettes compared with 18.9% for cigarettes and 20.7% for cigars.

“Among all students, perceiving ‘no’ or ‘little’ harm from intermittent tobacco product use was highest for e-cigarettes (16.6%) and lowest for cigarettes (9.6%),” according to the survey’s accompanying analysis. 

Nearly 58% of those who used e-cigarettes said they first tried it because a friend used a product and that piqued their interest.

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