MANKATO — Electronic cigarettes, which use a smoke-free process to deliver vaporized nicotine to users, will be banned in the same way as traditional smoking in all indoor public places in Mankato, the City Council decided Monday night.
The decision, made as part of an update of the city's business licensing ordinance, put an abrupt end to plans to open an e-cigarette shop in Mankato and came despite a strong endorsement by Councilman Jason Mattick that the devices have freed him from the unhealthiest aspects of nicotine addiction.
"I can breathe. I feel better. I don't need cigarettes," said Mattick, showing the small e-cigarette he uses.
But others — ranging from representatives of the American Lung Association to childrens' advocates to early advocates for Mankato's groundbreaking anti-smoking ordinance nearly a decade ago — said banning electronic cigarettes in bars, restaurants and other indoor spaces was the prudent choice.
"It's right on your shirt," said Councilman Mark Frost, pointing to Mattick's municipal polo shirt. "'The City of Mankato Leads the Way."
Council members were also concerned that the small cigarette-shaped vaporizers will inevitably be used to deliver liquefied versions of mind-altering substances beyond nicotine. And because e-cigarettes don't emit the tell-tale aromas of marijuana and other drugs, they could be used to "smoke" illegal substances anywhere.
Much of Monday's public hearing focused on the specific prohibition against customers sampling e-cigarettes prior to purchase. Tim and Kevin Morin, co-owners of Ecig Crib, said sampling was a vital part of the three metro-area electronic cigarette shops they operate.
With the small machines costing $48 to $210 and with 148 flavors of vapor being sold, customers need the opportunity to try the products, according to Tim Morin, who hinted that plans to open their first outstate shop hinged on the e-cigarette language being altered in the ordinance.