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.
The Morins emphasized that their product eliminated the smoke — and its numerous proven carcinogenic properties — of traditional smoking.
"We're all about clean air," Kevin Morin said. "All we ask is that you do your homework."
But Frost, a pharmacist, said opening the door to the Morins would also open it to less scrupulous sellers of smoking products and said there are too many unknowns about the chemicals used in the relatively new electronic cigarettes.
Despite the focus of Monday's discussion on tobacco/nicotine shops, City Manager Pat Hentges said he's certain that the ordinance's new definition of smoking to specifically include electronic cigarettes has the broader impact of banning use of the devices anywhere traditional cigarette smoking is banned.
"I think it's very clear from this point on," Hentges said.
E-cigarettes would still be legal to use in private homes, private cars and most outdoor places.