New York And Chicago Bring E-Cigs Under Umbrella Of Tobacco Laws

Laws subjecting e-cigarettes to the same regulations as other tobacco products take effect in New York and Chicago Tuesday. They're just the latest moves to stem the rising popularity of the devices.

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No smoking signs now have an expanded meaning in Chicago and New York. The image of a cigarette in a red circle with a line through it now applies to e-cigarettes, too. NPR's Cheryl Corley reports on the new laws that went into effect in both cities today.

CHERYL CORLEY, BYLINE: At a shop called Smoque on Chicago's North Side, there's no tobacco. Instead, says owner Jared Yucht, it's a store full of batteries for e-cigarettes and different-flavored e-liquids that are manufactured there.

JARED YUCHT: And this particular one has .6 percent nicotine in it. It's got a little warning on there: keep out of reach of children.

CORLEY: Just like a warning you might see on a cigarette pack. And Chicago's health commissioner, Bechara Choucair, says that's not the only similarity.

BECHARA CHOUCAIR: As of today, you won't be able to smoke e-cigarettes where you cannot smoke regular combustible cigarettes.

CORLEY: That means no e-cigarettes in restaurants and bars and most indoor public places in Chicago. No one under 18 will be allowed to buy them either. Retailers have to sell them from behind the counter. Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel.

RAHM EMANUEL: As part of a concerted effort to get to a generation tobacco-free. And if you do that, you stop kids from ever starting, more likely than not, they will never start as adults.

CORLEY: And Emanuel says he couldn't wait for the Food and Drug Administration to decide whether the vapor is harmful, like secondhand smoke. But store owner Yucht doesn't think much of the new ban as he points to the e-cigarettes around his shop.

YUCHT: It's silly. Kids don't think this is cool. My average customer is probably around 40 years old.

CORLEY: Customers, he says, who are looking for alternatives so they can quit smoking. But that argument doesn't persuade lawmakers who feel e-cigarettes may be dangerous. In New York, the ban doesn't allow retailers to sell e-cigarettes or tobacco products to anyone under 21. The public spaces where they can't be used also extends to parks and beaches.

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CORLEY: At the Henley Vaporium in SoHo, it looks like a cafe. There are places to sit, a little courtyard in back where customers try the products. Owner Ahmed Lakhani(ph) says treating e-cigarettes like tobacco products is just wrong.

AHMED LAKHANI: You see over there in the wall, those are all the chemicals that in a cigarette. None of that is in vapor. And the thing is vaping is not, you know, it's not harm-free. Like nothing is harm-free. It's, you know, it's a smoking alternative.

CORLEY: The Henley's Joe Denholz(ph) says he believes there is just a lot of misinformation about e-cigarettes. But he's not too discouraged about the regulations that are in effect in his city now.

JOE DENHOLZ: It's a stop in the road. I think it's unfortunate and I think we need to make our voices heard and we need to help educate folks to the potential benefits of vaping. But, you know, this industry's not going away.

CORLEY: The debate over e-cigarettes won't be snubbed out, though, anytime soon. The FDA has also proposed federal regulations that would make it illegal to sell e-cigarettes to minors. Manufacturers would also have to put health warnings on them. So, the bans on vaping in New York and Chicago that come on the heels of one in Los Angeles could become even more widespread. Cheryl Corley, NPR News, Chicago.

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