It's been 13 years since Independence passed its Clean Indoor Air Act. The Advisory Board of Health has offered several proposed updates for the City Council to consider.
“Looking back, we have come a long way the last 13 years,” said board member Donald Potts, a retired physician and UMKC medical professor. “Over the years, it has become more common to be a smoke-free community.”
The first update Potts and board Chairperson Ralph Ruckman proposed Monday was to expand the definition of smoking to include vaping and alternative nicotine-delivery devices, which were not on the scene when voters approved the Clean Indoor Air Act in 2006.
“Vaping has come into the forefront,” Potts said, referring to the so-called e-cigarettes that deliver a flavored nicotine when heated up. He noted the U.S. surgeon general has found e-cigarette rising from 1.5 percent of high schoolers in 2011 to 16 percent just four years later.
“They haven't been around long enough to do any intense medical studies, so it may take 10-15 years to see how something's going to happen down the line,” Potts said. “What worries me is the kids.”
“The flavorings for e-cigarettes contain toxins that can don't exactly make the product a safer alternative than smoking,” Potts said. Council Member Scott Roberson said he's also read that the oils from those flavorings never leave the lungs.
“All the e-cigarette companies have been purchased by the tobacco companies, and they know the use of tobacco has gone down,” Potts said, adding that he sees advertising for e-cigarettes, as well as the flavoring geared toward young users.
Among the other proposed updates Potts and Ruckman offered for smoking restrictions included:
• Within 15 feet of public areas where smoking is already prohibited, including building entrances, operable windows, ventilation systems and areas of food service.
• At transportation shelters and bus stops.
• All city parks and recreational areas, strengthening a policy already in place to a law.
• Multi-unit housing complexes, and the exception percentages of hotel/motel rooms and long-term care facilities, as smoke can migrate between units. This also could decrease fires originating from rooms where people sleep, Potts and Roberson said.
“They have been able to show many times that they can't keep air from one unit out of other units in that building,” Potts said.
He also proposed changing the definition of “enclosed space” to in effect further limit a restaurant's ability to have a smoking area.
“You've heard this before, but having a non-smoking section in a restaurant is like having a non-peeing section in a swimming pool – it gets there anyway, no matter what you do,” Potts said.
Mayor Eileen Weir said adding vaping to the smoking definition seems to be a logical move, though other proposals present some enforcement questions and possible overstepping, particularly in dealing with restaurants and hotels and motels. A significant change to something voters approved would probably require going back to the voters, she said.
“We're going to clearly need some more time (with) these recommendations, to see which ones are in compliance with what the voters approved,” she said.
“We're always catching up to a new invention,” Council Member Tom Van Camp said, referring to e-cigarettes. “To be ahead of the curve is what you're proposing, and I have no problem with that.”
Ruckman said the proposals were merely preliminary and he would welcome any questions from council members to possibly fine-tune the ideas.