Dallas closer to banning vaping in public spaces

Dallas is weighing recommendations from a citizen-led advisory group to ban vaping in public spaces to protect vulnerable populations from what it considers harmful secondhand exposure.

At a Parks, Trails and the Environment committee meeting this month, Folashade Afolabi, with the Dallas Environmental Commission, said her group recommends the city expand its definition of smoking to include e-cigarettes, cigars and vapes that create an aerosol or vapor.

The policy change would bring the city up to a “gold standard” of public health, Afolabi said, adding that the change is recommended by the American Lung Association, American Heart Association and World Health Organization.

“Unfortunately, you’ll see some of the data shows that there are many children that are teenagers who are dual smoking,” Afolabi said. “So they came into the tobacco world and the cigarette world from e-cigarettes and now have ventured over to combustible cigarettes.”

City staff are still working on making amendments to the parts of the code prohibiting smoking and have a goal to present it to City Council in the next two or three months, said Carlos Evans, director of Dallas’ Office of Environmental Quality and Sustainability.

But the Parks, Trails and Environment committee will get another briefing before the full Council, he said. Dallas trails behind other Texas cities in banning e-cigarettes. Vaping was banned in Austin in 2017 and in Houston in 2022.

“The smoking ordinance passed long, long before vaping became trendy,” Evans said. “But now vaping is on the rise. It’s popular for certain groups, including teenagers, which is causing significant firsthand and secondhand health impacts.”

Evans said he spoke with local restaurant owners, who have told him the policy change would be welcomed since it would help with enforcement.

“They believe that this may be helpful to them because they don’t have to police people in their restaurants to figure out who’s vaping versus who’s smoking?” Evans said.

Dr. Philip Huang, the director of Dallas County’s Health and Human Services department, presented data to the committee showing that although the number of Texas teens using e-cigarettes has fallen over the years, the prevalence is still high among youth.

More than 23% of youth in 2014 reported using e-cigarettes, according to Texas A&M University’s 2014-21 Texas Youth Tobacco Survey. In 2021, about 16% of teens reported using e-cigarettes.

“What we’ve made tremendous progress in is in conventional smoking rates and reductions in those, especially among youth,” Huang said.

From 1999 until 2019, traditional cigarette use among 12th graders fell from 35% to 8.2%, according to the National Youth Tobacco Survey.

E-cigarette use among 12th graders rose dramatically, from 1.6% in 2011 to 34.5% in 2019.

“E-cigarettes are reintroducing and re-addicting a whole generation of kids to nicotine, which is very concerning for all of us,” Huang said.

According to Dallas County data, a January 2020 outbreak of severe lung illnesses related to e-cigarette exposure affected 63 people, 35% of whom were kids under 18 years old.

“They were very severe,” Huang said “I remember visiting a couple of the cases in the hospital, many of them requiring ICU hospitalizations and so it is potentially a very serious public health issue.”

In 2019, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention tracked an epidemic of more than 2,800 hospitalizations and 68 deaths related to a vitamin E acetate byproduct in illicit e-cigarettes, which prompted a public health response with bans and educational campaigns warning young adults of the risks.

The spike in reported lung injuries gripped the country and Dallas County reported a swell of hospitalizations and a few deaths related to the epidemic. A Dallas County teen with underlying health conditions died in 2020 from complications caused by vaping use, according to the county.

Area manager Javi Villarreal poses behind the disposable nicotine vapes on sale at Gas Pipe on Maple Ave on Thursday, March 14, 2024, in Dallas. The city of Dallas is leaning toward expanding its ban on smoking in public spaces to include the use of e-cigarettes. (Juan Figueroa / Staff Photographer)

Banning vaping in public spaces appears to face little opposition from City Council members or some businesses that sell vaping products in Dallas.

Regulating the use of e-cigarettes in public spaces is smart for Dallas, said Bridget Payrot, the director of operations and human resources for The Gas Pipe, which operates five smoke shops throughout Dallas.

“We back…

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