A first step has been taken to ban vaping in public places in the largest city in western Massachusetts.
Under an ordinance that was given initial approval on a voice vote by the Springfield City Council this week, the use of e-cigarettes would be prohibited anywhere that smoking tobacco is outlawed. That would be most indoor public places including stores, restaurants, bars and the gaming floor of the soon-to-open MGM Springfield casino.
The ordinance regulates in Springfield the use of electronic smoking devices that heat a liquid containing nicotine into an inhalable vapor.
" As vaping culture has become more mainstream and people of the city have become more familiar with it, I have come to believe it is a nuisance and as a public nuisance I believe it should be restricted in the same way tobacco usage is," said City Councilor Mike Fenton , who proposed the vaping ordinance.
The proposed fines would be $100 for a first offense, $200 for a second offense within two years, and $300 for a subsequent offense within another two years.
While the council sets the fines, the local health board also needs to approve the ordinance.
The sudden interest in regulating vaping is because of the pending opening of the new $960 million resort casino in downtown Springfield, according to Fenton.
" The motivation for this conversation was a dicussion at the Casino Oversight Committee about smoking and vaping culture being closely associated with gaming culture," said Fenton. "So the question was what do we do in the event vaping is pursued within the casino walls."
At a meeting of the City Council Casino Oversight Committee in June, MGM Springfield Vice President and General Counsel Seth Stratton said vaping would be allowed on the casino floor, unless it is legally prohibited.
"Generally, activities that are permitted that don't conflict with our business we allow our patrons to engage in," said Stratton.
Over the objections of the casino industry lobby, the Massachusetts Legislature included in the 2011 gambling law a ban on tobacco smoking in casinos, but vaping was not on anyone’s radar at the time. Now, e-cigarettes are more popular than tobacco products with young people, according to several surveys.
The Massachusetts Department of Health earlier this month launched its first statewide public information campaign directed at parents to highlight the risks of vaping and nicotine addiction.
While e-cigarettes do not contain the same mix of toxic chemicals as tobacco cigarettes, vaping is not harmless, according to Springfield Health and Human Services Commissioner Helen Caulton-Harris.
"There are different delivery systems as far as vaping is concerned and some of them contain carcinogens so are not healthy." said Caulton-Harris.
The City Council is expected to give final approval to the e-cigarette ordinance at a meeting scheduled on August 20th. The MGM casino opens to the public on August 24.