COLUMBUS — A change to Columbus’ smoking ordinance would prohibit the use of electronic smoking devices, or e-cigarettes and vape pens, in places where smoking is banned.

Columbus City Council members voted unanimously Tuesday to approve the ordinance change on first reading. The ordinance adds the definition of an electronic smoking device and amends the existing definition of “smoking” to include electronic smoking devices.

According to the city’s definition, an electronic smoking device is “any product containing or delivering nicotine or any other substance intended for human consumption that can be used by a person in any manner for the purpose of inhaling vapor or aerosol from the product. The term includes any such device, whether manufactured, distributed, marketed or sold as an e-cigarette, e-cigar, e-pipe, e-hookah or vape pen, or under any other product name or descriptor.”

Under the city’s municipal code, smoking is prohibited in all premises, structures, facilities, establishments and stores listed as an exception under Indiana Code 7.1-5-12-5(a)(l)-(5), (7), and (9)-(10), all private clubs defined under Indiana Code 7.1-5-12-5(a)(6) and all bars and/or taverns defined under Indiana Code 7.1-5-12-5(a)(8).

The city defines “smoking” as “inhaling, exhaling, burning or carrying any lighted or heated cigar, cigarette, pipe, hookah or any other lighted or heated tobacco or plant product intended for inhalation, whether natural or synthetic, in any manner or in any form.”

The new version of the code would include the use of an electronic smoking device “which creates an aerosol or vapor, in any manner or in any form.” It also prohibits the use of any oral smoking devices for the purpose of circumventing the prohibition of smoking.

Any person who violates this code and smokes in an area where smoking is prohibited will be subject to a $50 for each finding of a violation.

Several community members spoke in support for the amendment, including representatives from Columbus Regional Health, Bartholomew Consolidated School Corp. and the American Lung Association.

Kylee Jones, tobacco awareness coordinator with Healthy Communities, handed out various types of electronic smoking devices to council members Tuesday for a chance to see how easily the devices can be concealed and how they compare to everyday products such as a USB drive.

Columbus Regional Health’s Chief Medical Officer and Vice President Tom Sonderman said the new ordinance would provide health benefits for all Columbus workers, a protection he said they deserve to have. He said current state law does not protect workers from secondhand aerosol, which can contain harmful and potentially harmful constituents including nicotine.

“In 2018, both the U.S. Surgeon General and the FDA commissioner declared e-cigarette use among youth an epidemic,” Sondermann said. “From 2017 to 2018, e-cigarette use among current high school students increased 78%. The recent surge in e-cigarette use among youth is a cause for concern.”

School superintendent Jim Roberts said the corporation has also witnessed a boom in users of e-cigarettes and electronic smoking devices among students in grades 7-12.

Each year, students in grades 6 through 12 participate annually in the Indiana Alcohol, Tobacco and Other Drug Survey. The survey shows that kids are making better decisions than they ever have before, Roberts said, except when it comes to electronic vaping.

“Our data has improved across the board in all other areas, but it does seem clear students are not connecting electronic vaping to tobacco use,” Roberts said.

The average monthly usage of tobacco among students in grades 7-12 is about 2.65%. The average monthly use of vaping devices in grades 7-12 is about 17.1% with 4.4% of seventh-grade students reporting they vape, and 29.3% of students in 12th grade reporting they vape.

Roberts said beginning this year, school resources officers will issue citations for tobacco and electronic smoking device use in schools.

Quoting student assistance coordinator Larry Perkinson, Roberts said substances are more accessible and affordable than ever before.

“With electronic vaping, advertisers have hit a home run against our educational efforts,” Roberts said.

The council also heard from a Columbus East High School junior who asked council members to consider adding electronic smoking devices to the ordinance because of how he’s watched the devices affect his own peers.

“The bathrooms have become gathering spots for students because they can use someone else’s e-cigarette device even if they don’t have theirs,” Naman Satsangi said. “It hurts me to see many of the people I know today may not be here in the future because they are ruining their lungs and filling them with harmful substances. Change has to happen. We need to stop this before it’s too late.”

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