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Hawaii County limits electronic cigarettes in public spaces

    Rhonda Benigno of 808 Smokes demonstrated an electronic cigarette Monday. The devices are now banned from 49 state government buildings, and Hawaii County is considering even broader restrictions on them.

KAILUA-KONA >> Hawaii County became the first county in the state to restrict electronic cigarettes to the same level as traditional cigarettes.

Mayor Billy Kenoi signed a bill that bans e-cigarettes at beaches, county parks, public buildings and anywhere else that traditional smoking is banned, West Hawaii Today reported Wednesday. The bill had squeezed through the County Council on a 5-4 vote.

“This is for a healthier, safer Hawaii Island,” Kenoi said.

Opponents argue there’s no evidence that electronic cigarettes are harmful. They point to the increasing number of people using the devices as a way to wean themselves off traditional cigarettes and quitting nicotine altogether. They argue that if e-cigarettes are so harmful in open-air environments such as beaches and parks, why not also ban charcoal grills and aerosol insect sprays and sunscreens?

Supporters say allowing people to “vape” or smoke e-cigarettes sends the wrong message to youth. A recent state Department of Health survey found the number of high school students who have used e-cigarettes at least once more than tripled from 5.1 percent in 2011 to 17.6 percent in 2013. E-cigarette use among middle school students quadrupled from 1.8 percent to 7.9 percent during the same period.

State Sen. Josh Green, a Big Island Democrat and chairman of the Senate Health Committee, said it’s likely the state Legislature will be working on statewide controls when the legislative session starts Jan. 21. Among them is a measure he says will bring parity between e-cigarettes and traditional cigarettes, he said.

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