St. Paul uncertain about e-cigarettes

The St. Paul City Council has decided to take a deep breath before it regulates electronic cigarettes.

The council today delayed a scheduled vote on an ordinance that would add e-cigarettes to the list of tobacco products regulated by the city.

“Whenever we do something really new, we should make sure that we are getting the outcome that we expect,” Council President Kathy Lantry said.

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The inventor of the electronic cigarette, Hon Lik, smokes his invention in Beiijng on May 25, 2009. (Photo by FREDERIC J. BROWN/AFP/Getty Images.)

Electronic cigarettes resemble the real thing, but instead of smoke, they produce a nicotine mist when the user inhales.

“It gives an alternative for people who are trying to quit smoking, and they can smoke something other than the tars and nasty stuff that kill people in cigarettes,” said Council Member Dave Thune, who spoke against the ordinance at last week’s council meeting.

The refillable devices, which start at about $30, are marketed as a safer alternative to smoking. But the Food and Drug Administration disputes those claims. It says e-cigarettes haven’t even been proven safe, let alone beneficial.

“There really has never been any research or any study that has shown e-cigarettes to be effective at helping people quit,” said Mike Sheldon, a spokesman for Clearway Minnesota, a non-profit organization that promotes smoking cessation.

The proposed ordinance would require e-cigarette retailers to be licensed just like stores that sell tobacco.

Dozens of Minnesota cities have have taken similar actions since the state banned the sale of e-cigarettes to minors in 2010, according to the Minnesota Department of Health.