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State should follow city, county lead in regulating use of electronic cigarettes

A pat on the back for the City of Buffalo and Erie County for joining communities across the nation in placing electronic cigarettes under the same regulations as tobacco cigarettes.

Electronic cigarettes, or e-cigarettes, which are battery-powered devices that vaporize flavored liquid nicotine so it can be inhaled, are all the rage these days.

Early last month, the Buffalo Common Council voted unanimously to make illegal the use of e-cigarettes in any venue where the city bans tobacco cigarettes. It made Buffalo the first community in Erie County to regulate e-cigarettes. The legislation was sponsored by Council President Darius G. Pridgen and quickly signed by Mayor Byron W. Brown.

Later in the month, the Erie County Legislature approved, 9-1, a local law that bans the use of electronic cigarettes and vaping devices at all public indoor facilities, with the exception of establishments where the devices and their accessories are either sold or sampled by prospective customers. Legislator Peter J. Savage III, D-Buffalo, sponsored the law.

Majority Leader Joseph C. Lorigo, C-West Seneca, cast the sole vote against, strongly objecting to what he deemed “overregulation” of a “poorly crafted” law.

Rather than an example of overregulation, the new rules appropriately place public health first. In a recent Buffalo News article, Savage said that “residents have an absolute right to breathe clean air under the county’s Indoor Clean Air Act.” The new law will take effect once it is filed with the New York State secretary of state. That can’t come too soon.

In New York State, the products already cannot be sold to minors. Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, in his budget, has proposed banning the use of e-cigarettes in restaurants, offices and other public places where tobacco consumption is prohibited.

Supporters of e-cigarettes say they help smokers kick the tobacco habit and are safer than tobacco cigarettes. That may be, but until research shows they are safe, they should be regulated.

Researcher Mark J. Travers, of Roswell Park Cancer Institute, was quoted in The News saying that e-cigarettes are safer than tobacco, but still not safe. He reported finding levels of formaldehyde and heavy metals.

Dr. Gale R. Burstein, the county’s health commissioner, noted the lack of oversight and information on the manufacturing of e-cigarettes, many coming from China.

The rights of those who do not want to be exposed to electronic cigarettes should carry the day. That’s now true in Erie County. The State Legislature should act quickly to put uniform rules in place for the whole state.