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Contrasts about e-cigarettes offered as Erie County lawmakers consider ban

Nicole Biro told Erie County Legislators that she started smoking “at the ripe old age of 13.”

She had smokers’ cough by the time she was 16, and in her 30s, she started every morning hacking.

“I smoked three packs a day for over 20 years,” she said.

Then she started smoking electronic cigarettes, and was able to quit smoking. She said she saw her doctor last week.

“At the end of my physical, the doctor told me I have the lungs of an 18 year old,” she said. “I don’t have smokers’ cough. I can breathe freely. I can run.” She contends that e-cigarettes can save countless lives by freeing people from their addiction to tobacco.

That’s just one of the stories that legislators have to think about as they consider whether to ban e-cigarettes from public places where traditional forms of smoking are already prohibited.

Legislators heard another story during a public hearing on the proposed law Monday. Phil Habersto, executive director of the Wellness Institute of Greater Buffalo, said that when he attended a recent concert, someone started using an e-cigarette. “The security folks didn’t know what to do,” he said. “The people sitting next to that person were upset because those vapors were floating in their air.”

Recalling when the Clean Indoor Act was passed unanimously by the Legislature in 1997, he urged it to “do the right thing again.”

Dr. Gale R. Burstein, the county’s health commissioner, said she is concerned about the lack of oversight and information on the manufacturing of e-cigarettes, saying that many come from China. “Despite emerging research showing that electronic smoking devices contain hazardous substances, and may expose bystanders to secondhand vapor, the popularity of these devices is soaring,” she said.

Paul Smith, production manager at Nixteria, a company that manufactures liquids used in vaping, disputed arguments that e-cigarettes are marketed to children because they are tasty. That appeal of the flavors is true for adults, as well, he argued.

“This law would, in a sense, tell people who are trying to make a safer choice, a better choice, ‘Hey, we’re going to put you outside with the smokers, because you’re just like them,’ ” Smith said.

Dr. Andrew J. Hyland, chairman of the Health Behavior Department at Roswell Park Cancer Institute, said that there are hazardous chemicals in some e-cigarette emissions.

“There’s a reason to be hopeful, that they show promise for public health, but there is some reason to be concerned about unintended consequences,” he said. “The spirit of the clean indoor law was to provide workers with clean air to breathe.”