FORSYTH COUNTY, Ga. — In its bid to align electronic cigarettes with tobacco products, Forsyth County Commissioners got a lot of new information and opposition.
At their June 5 meeting, several people spoke in opposition to the change that could ban the use of electronic cigarettes, also known as e-cigs or vaporizers, in county buildings and parks and recreation facilities. None spoke in favor.
The law would allow the use at designated areas alongside tobacco smokers.
This is where Commissioners got it all wrong, said Noah Richardson, who works at Awesome Vapors in Cumming and is one of the leaders opposed to the change on social media.
Richardson along with Ryan Ryke and Steven Bryant started the 600-member Facebook group “North Atlanta Vape Squad.” They say it’s not right to lump them in with tobacco product users.
“We wanted them to understand that e-cigarettes are not harmful and they do not need to be classified as a tobacco product,” Richardson said. “They wanted to classify us as a tobacco product and have us go and sit with smokers, but we don’t want to be exposed to second-hand smoke.”
Richardson said he started using e-cigarettes to get away from the harmful chemicals that are in cigarettes.
A Boston University School of Public Health study found that cigarette smoke contains between 10,000 and 100,000 chemicals, including more than 60 known human carcinogens, while e-cigarette vapor contains about 15 chemicals, of which five are of any significant health concern.
Richardson said the only real harmful chemical is nicotine, which he said is no worse than caffeine.
“Our goal is to get people off of cigarettes,” Richardson said. “We are not a cigarette cessation device, we are an alternative. We don’t market ourselves as a health product. We are just a safer way.”
At the public hearing, Forsyth County Attorney Ken Jarrard said there’s no concrete evidence about whether the use of e-cigarettes helps smokers kick their habit.
“They’re a source of second-hand exposure to nicotine, but not to combustion toxicants,” Jarrard said.
The move toward a ban in county buildings and parks started when constituents contacted a County Commissioner to complain that someone was smoking electronic cigarettes at a library.
Richardson said his group agrees that smoking indoors is not courteous or polite.
“If you use your brain, you’re not going to use your e-cigarette in public buildings,” he said.
Ryan Ryke, who also works at Awesome Vapors, said being classified as a tobacco product would set their business back.
“We can’t let people try out the product and test before they purchase, so it would hurt our business,” Ryke said.
The fight to keep electronic cigarettes “vaping” as many call it, united several of the small businesses selling the devices.
“Most businesses you don’t hang out with your competition, but we all have a common goal,” Richardson said. “We all want to get people out of cigarettes. After all the shops close, we are all one community and we just want what’s best for the community.”
Forsyth County Commissioners later discussed possibly allowing the use of e-cigarettes in the parking lots of county buildings and parks.
The next public hearing on the issue takes place at 5 p.m. July 3 at the County Administration building, 110 East Main Street, Suite 220, in Cumming.