UPPER MARLBORO – Despite the Prince George’s County Council passing a bill banning e-cigarettes in public establishments, constituents were still disappointed in an amendment granting exception to one place – the MGM casino. The council’s bill bans e-cigarettes in public housing, senior housing, as well as eating and drinking establishments. But a facility with an […]
UPPER MARLBORO – Despite the Prince George’s County Council passing a bill banning e-cigarettes in public establishments, constituents were still disappointed in an amendment granting exception to one place – the MGM casino.
The council’s bill bans e-cigarettes in public housing, senior housing, as well as eating and drinking establishments. But a facility with an approved alcoholic beverages license or one that has been awarded a video lottery operation license from the state do not have to ban the use of e-cigarettes, according to the legislation.
Citizens were not happy with the amendment, saying if the product is banned in other establishments it should be banned in clubs and casinos as well.
John O’Hara, the president of the Maryland Group against Smoker Pollution and a Bowie resident, said the exception to casinos does not need to be included in the bill.
He does support the overall bill, O’Hara said, but the exception to allow them in casinos has to be reconsidered.
“There is potential harm to patrons and workers from the vapor,” O’Hara said. “Will the county be responsible if workers sue for damages from the vapor?”
O’Hara said there have been too many cases where e-cigarettes have exploded and caused damage to the areas around them. The product is still not approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), he said, and needs to be regulated throughout the county.
The county could be responsible for any damages that come as a result of this exception, O’Hara said. There is a danger presented with the e-cigarettes and there is no justification for the amendment.
Bonita Pennino, the government relations director for the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network, said the council should be applauded for protecting the citizens from the dangers of e-cigarettes, but they are forgetting about the workers in casinos.
“We’re leaving out a particular population and we are creating winners and losers,” Pennino said. “And I just cannot believe the county council wants to create a class of citizens that are losers by objecting them to toxins in electronic cigarettes.”
The council needs to be consistent with their application of the law, Pennino said, and make the law apply to all facilities including casinos. Allowing the product in some places and not others could create enforcement issues.
According to the legislation, e-cigarettes would be allowed in the casino area of the MGM entertainment facility, but not in the sleeping quarters. The casino supports the legislation as drafted, said Brian Banks, director of government affairs at MGM.
The FDA has not approved or regulated e-cigarettes across the country. A rule for the regulation of the product was drafted a year ago by the FDA, but has still not been approved. The rule has been moved to the White House for review, but could take months to gain approval.
James Repace, a biophysicist from Secondhand Smoke Consultants, said there are many studies showing the negative effects of e-cigarettes.
The products remain unregulated, Repace said, and lack any sort of “quality control.” Different substances can be placed into the e-cigarettes and smoked.
“Despite the common perception that e-cigs are safe, e-cigs use, even for relatively brief periods, may have adverse consequence for human respiratory health,” Repace said. “If they are not safe for their users, they are not safe for involuntary non-users, especially at the work place.”
Councilmember Todd Turner said he has been involved with this issue for years. Prince George’s County has always been at the forefront of tobacco legislation, he said, and they are joining other jurisdictions to send a message to the state on their position of e-cigarettes.
However, Turner said, the legislation is not always perfect. And there will always be some bills met with opposition. But the process has to be respected.
Turner said revisiting the issue sometime in the future should happen. Rather than allowing e-cigarette use throughout the casino, MGM could look at having it in a designated area. Turner originally proposed the amendment in committee.
“I do like the idea of having a designated area for (e-cigarettes) and not just having the general space,” Turner said. “It does affect the other residents and visitors in the area. We can bring that back to the leadership of MGM.”
Councilmember Obie Patterson said he supports the original bill, but has trouble with the legislation’s final draft. Patterson was the lone member of the council to vote no to the bill.
“I struggle with this bill because I believe we’re not moving in the right direction that we should be,” Patterson said. “I like the bill, just not the amendment. It should not be a part of this bill.”