Chicago's e-cigarette crackdown is officially underway

Chicago's e-cigarette crackdown is officially underway

The city of Chicago’s crackdown on electronic cigarettes officially begins Tuesday. 

E-cigarettes, or vape pens, allow users to puff on nicotine vapor rather than real tobacco smoke. The Chicago City Council passed an ordinance in January that regulates the pens just like any other tobacco product. From now on, smokers won’t be allowed to use any of these devices in the workplace or any enclosed public places like bars, restaurants, stores or sports venues.

The city policy also bans the distribution or sale of e-cigarettes to minors, and requires that stores keep them behind the counter, rather than out on the sale floor.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel backed the measure, and has been pushing restrictions on all forms of cigarette smoking - including boosting the cigarette tax and putting a prohibition on selling flavored tobacco products within a 500 feet of a school.

“It’s been a long line of activities to protect our kids from both tobacco products, and more importantly, from the tobacco companies seeing [kids] as part of their bottom line. And they’re not,” Emanuel told WBEZ. 

Opponents - including some aldermen - say e-cigarettes are safer than regular tobacco-burning cigarettes, and can actually help people quit.

The Food and Drug Administration issued a proposal last week that would extend the agency’s tobacco authority to cover e-cigarette products, which would restrict companies from giving out free samples. It would also impose minimum-age and identification restrictions on e-cigarettes and keep them out of vending machines (unless they’re in a facility that never admits kids) but it stopped short of regulating advertising.The proposed rule is now under a public comment period.

Dr. Bechara Choucair, Commissioner of Chicago’s Department of Public Health, said the proposal is a good first step--and a step in the right direction--but the city’s ordinance goes even farther.

Choucair said if anyone sees people smoking e-cigarettes in Chicago where they’re not supposed to, they can call 311 to file a complaint.

Lauren Chooljian is a WBEZ reporter. Follow her @laurenchooljian