Print this page

Powell police chief: Ban e-cigarettes for area youth

Powell’s police chief is calling for the city council to ban electronic cigarettes for children under the age of 18.

Wyoming law says juveniles can’t have e-cigarettes if they contain nicotine, but Police Chief Roy Eckerdt says it’s nearly impossible for law enforcement to tell what someone’s smoking in the devices.

“I’m pushing for an ordinance — and they’re starting to pop up around the state — that says if you’re under the age of 18, you can’t possess an e-cigarette. Period,” Eckerdt said during a May 7 presentation to the Park County Health Coalition in Cody.

E-cigarettes use battery power to turn liquids like nicotine, flavors or other chemicals into aerosols that can be inhaled by the user, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration website explains. Eckerdt said the problem for police is the devices give off no aroma from whatever’s being inhaled.

“So if they’re smoking marijuana, we don’t know. If they’re smoking tobacco, we don’t know it,” he said, adding later, “without the odor, how do we develop probable cause to seize that, without sending it off to be (tested)?”

Park County School District No. 1 already prohibits its students from having or using electronic cigarettes at any school facility or function, and Eckerdt said Powell’s retailers have a policy of not selling the devices to juveniles, “which is great.”

“But from an enforcement perspective, we have no tools to work with to keep that out of their hands,” he said.

Eckerdt said in a later interview that the ordinance would largely be a preventative measure. However, he said there was an instance this month where a middle school-aged youth had an electronic cigarette off of school property and police could do nothing about it.

Survey data released by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control in April and summarized on TIME’s website says that e-cigarette use among the country’s high schoolers roughly tripled between 2013 and 2014, becoming the most common way that teens use tobacco. Some 13.4 percent of the surveyed high schoolers reported they were using e-cigarettes last year, up from 4.5 percent the year before, the National Youth Tobacco Survey results say.

Dr. Carletta Collins, who practices hematology and oncology at the Big Horn Basin Regional Cancer Center in Cody, told the health coalition there’s little known about the health effects of the relatively new devices.

E-cigarettes are marketed as a healthier alternative to traditional smoking because they involve inhaling fewer chemicals, but Collins said they still generally contain cancer-causing materials.

She said the steam given off by the devices contains formaldehyde — a carcinogen and perhaps best known for its use in preserving the specimens that students dissect in biology classes.

“You want that stuff in your lungs? I mean, that’s horrible,” Collins said.

Another selling point is the device’s purported ability to help people quit smoking altogether.

“If you try to use it to stop smoking, I’m OK with it,” Collins advised one adult patient. “Don’t simply substitute one for the other, because I’m not assured that e-cigarettes are any safer at all in comparison to regular cigarettes.”

Chief Eckerdt said when he talks to people about e-cigarettes, they’re surprised to hear that teens can buy them under the current law. He hopes to present a draft ordinance to the city council at its second meeting in June.

At this month’s health coalition meeting, there was expressed interest about pursuing a similar prohibition in Cody.