Local health advocate raises idea of smoking ban in city parks, e-cigarette ban in certain city facilities
Walk your dog in the park? Sure. Toss a Frisbee around in the park? You bet. Conduct catapult-like experiments on a park Teeter Totter? Well . . . I’ll just say it unfortunately isn’t covered under my insurance policy. But what about smoking a cigarette in a Lawrence park? That may become the next interesting question for Lawrence city commissioners to tackle.
Smoking your standard tobacco cigarette in a city park is legal today. But an official with the Lawrence-Douglas County Health Department is now suggesting the city ought to debate whether it should remain so. The question is also likely to expand to whether spectators at outdoor sporting events on city-owned property should be allowed to smoke, and whether e-cigarettes also should be banned at city facilities.
Erica Anderson, a new health promotion specialist with the health department, has begun asking about the issue at Lawrence City Hall, and earlier this week talked briefly with the city’s Parks and Recreation Advisory Board about the topic. She hasn’t submitted a specific proposal for the city to consider yet, but said she’s working to develop one.
“For sure we want to get rid of e-cigarettes in recreation centers,” Anderson said. “We really want to look at changing the social norms around tobacco use.”
Anderson said the health department has received a grant related to the e-cigarette issue, and she expects that to be the group’s first area of focus. But she said banning smoking in parks is also on the list of areas she would like considered.
“That probably will be in our long-term plans,” Anderson said. “It would do a lot to help change the social norm.”
Anderson said a primary thought is that if children see fewer adults using tobacco or e-cigarettes, that perhaps they’ll be less likely to take up the smoking habit in the future. That’s why areas such as recreation centers, ball fields, parks and other areas that attract a lot of children are high on the list of places where she wants the city to consider tougher smoking policies.
The city’s current smoking ban, enacted in 2004, doesn’t really address e-cigarettes. Retailers of the devices have said that since the “smoke” emitted by the devices is actually water vapor, that they don’t create the same second-hand smoke type of concerns that cigarettes do. But Anderson, who previously was the program coordinator for Tobacco Free Kansas, said the science and possible health impacts of e-cigarettes aren’t yet very well understood.
As for smoking at an outdoor ball field, such as at soccer games or baseball games sponsored by the city, that currently is allowed, as long as you are not on the field of play, said Ernie Shaw, the leader of the city’s Parks and Recreation Department. That means spectators along the sidelines or in the stands can smoke.
Where the issue goes from here will be interesting to watch. Anderson said she’s had a conversation with the city attorney’s office seeking more information about the city’s policies regarding smoking and e-cigarettes.
If any changes are to be made — such as banning smoking in parks — ultimately it will be up to the City Commission to make them. And given the time of year that we’re in, we’re in all likelihood talking about the next City Commission that will be elected at the April 7 elections.
Large e-cigarette store opens on 23rd Street; part of Iowa street, multiple crosswalks approved for new pavement markings
I still don't have this e-cigarette trend figured out. I would think it would take an awful long extension cord to make it convenient.
Actually, I'm told that's not how it works. If you want to figure out how it does work, there's no shortage of locations in town where you can learn. We reported on the city's first stand-alone e-cigarette store, Juice-E-Vapes on East 23rd Street, in November. Several more have popped up since then, and it now appears there is a large new player in the market.
Aqueous Vapor has opened up in a large new space next to Myers Liquor at 23rd and Alabama streets. Co-owner Jay Yeager told me the 2,000-square-foot store is the largest in his chain of seven stores. The location carries 250 different flavors of vaping juice that mimic the taste of everything from traditional cigarettes to soda pop to coffee to banana nut bread.
In addition to selling the product, the store also has a large lounge area, complete with video games, where customers can relax and enjoy an e-cigarette.
If you are not familiar with the product, an e-cigarette is a battery-operated, flameless device that heats a juice mixture that can contain flavors and nicotine. When heated, it produces a water vapor that can be inhaled to simulate tobacco smoke. But because the device doesn't have a flame, e-cigarettes aren't covered under the state's smoking ban. They also aren't covered under the city of Lawrence's smoking ban.
Some advocates have touted e-cigarettes as a healthier alternative than smoking. Some have said they are a good way to wean people off of tobacco. But there have been articles saying that the potential negative health impacts of e-cigarettes aren't well understood. I'll let you figure all that out on your own.
But I think it will be an interesting industry to watch. As I mentioned, the stores seemingly are popping up everywhere. In addition to Aqueous, there is a new retailer that has opened on second-floor space in the 700 block of New Hampshire Street in downtown.
Those retailers perhaps are making a bet that Lawrence won't take any action to include e-cigarettes in its smoking ban. Thus far, I haven't heard any talk at City Hall that indicates such an addition is likely. But, as we previously have reported, Kansas University and Lawrence public schools both have taken steps to include e-cigarettes as part of their smoking bans.
And according to a new article I read from a website published by The Atlantic, it appears cities are starting to add e-cigarettes to their smoking bans. As of late April, 172 cities had included electronic smoking devices as part of their smoking bans. That was up from 100 in January. Thus far, it doesn't appear any city in Kansas has taken such action. According to a list compiled by the American Nonsmokers' Rights Foundation, it appears the closest city to Lawrence that has included e-cigarettes as part of their ban is Jefferson City, Mo.
I honestly can't say that I have heard any complaints about e-cigarettes showing up in bars or restaurants around town. But, we'll see what the future brings.
In other news and notes from around town:
• Now that I understand e-cigarettes better, perhaps I'll use my really long extension cord to power a homemade, eye-in-the-sky traffic helicopter. (I'm telling you, I need a traffic helicopter this summer, and one of those cool Air Force hats that says "Chopper Chad" on it.)
In the meantime, I'll just do my best to report on the latest traffic projects the old fashioned way. Look for a little bit more work to take place on Iowa Street near 15th and Bob Billings Parkway. I know what you are thinking: There is already major work at 23rd and Iowa, and activity is ramping up for a reconstruction of the intersection at Sixth and Iowa street. But don't worry, this project shouldn't take long, and it will address an issue some of you have been complaining about.
City commissioners have approved a bid to add better pavement markings on the part of Iowa Street that was reconstructed last year. Area company C-HAWKK won a nearly $85,000 bid to conduct the work on Iowa Street, plus improve the markings of several crosswalks around town.
Look for the work on the Iowa Street pavement markings to begin this month. Work on the crosswalks is expected to last into July.
As for why pavement markings are needed on a new stretch of road, that's because weather conditions at the end of the reconstruction project last year prevented the city from installing the permanent lane markings and such. Temporary lines were painted, and they have begun to fade badly.
In terms of the crosswalks, here's a list of intersections slated for new markings: Second and McDonald; Third and Kansas Turnpike; 19th and Haskell; 19th and Kentucky; 23rd and Massachusetts; 25th and Iowa, 27th and Iowa; 31st and U.S. Post Office; Clinton Parkway and Wakarusa.
That's all I have at the moment, but I'll keep my eyes open. Who knows, maybe from a chopper at some point. Although, should I be worried that my wife is enthusiastically offering to buy me the parts for my homemade helicopter?
I'm not a smoker, and as my struggles to operate my VCR remote demonstrate, I'm not always a whiz with electronic gizmos either. So, although I have heard of electronic cigarettes, I figured they weren't for me.
Jack Tran, owner of a new Lawrence store that specializes in selling e-cigarettes, agrees. But he is betting that the store will be just the ticket for thousands of smokers in the area.
"I'm not recommending this to people who don't smoke already," said Tran. "But I think it will be great for people who do smoke and are looking for a healthier alternative."
Tran earlier this month opened up Juice-E-Vapes, a store that sells only e-cigarettes and e-cigarette supplies, at 1216 E. 23rd St. For those of you trying to picture the location, it is in the building that houses the Avis car rental company.
Perhaps you are like me — a perpetually confused parent — who thinks Juice-E-Vapes sounds like a $2 juice box that my kids will insist on having in their lunch sacks. (That's right, no high tech lunch boxes for my kids.) But Tran explains that Vapes is short for vaping, which is the term that has become associated with the act of "smoking" an e-cigarette. As for the Juice, well, the e-cigarettes are filled with a juice-like liquid that creates a vapor when heated by a battery-powered element.
The store stocks more than 100 different flavors of the juices. Some simulate tobacco flavors, while others mimic the taste of fruit juices, snacks, candies, or your favorite drinks. The juices can be purchased with or without nicotine. People trying to quit smoking can gradually reduce the nicotine mixture.
"What really made me decide to start this store is that I used to smoke cigarettes," Tran said. "About two years ago, I quit cigarettes because I started vaping instead. It helped me a lot in quitting."
Plus, it appears to be a growing business. I found an interesting article written deep in the heart of tobacco country by The Charlotte Observer. It reports that e-cigarette sales are expected to hit the $1 billion mark in 2013, up from $500 million in 2012.
Offshoots of the big tobacco companies such as R.J. Reynolds and Philip Morris are in the process of releasing their own e-cigarettes. Their rapid rise in popularity has created questions about whether scientists understand enough about the health effects of the e-cigarettes and how the product fits in with a host of smoking bans that have been adopted across the country.
The Observer describes the liquid that is heated by the e-cigarette as a mixture of propylene glycol (a common chemical used in many food products), vegetable glycerin, flavorings and nicotine. The article notes that little research has been done on the health effects of inhaling a nicotine-laced vapor.
But anti-tobacco advocates have been hesitant to deride the e-cigarettes because it does appear that a water vapor-based product would create fewer health effects than the traditional tobacco-based cigarettes.
As for how the products fit in with local smoking bans, it appears the bans don't restrict the use of e-cigarettes. The Kansas Attorney General issued an opinion in 2011 that said the use of e-cigarettes was allowed under the statewide smoking ban because the product doesn't involve tobacco or the use of a flame. Lawrence has its own smoking ban, but it is similar to the state ban and Tran says the Lawrence ban allows e-cigarettes too. (I've got an e-mail into the city attorney to confirm that. UPDATE: I heard back from the city attorney's office, and indeed, e-cigarettes are not subject to the city's smoking ban. )
Kansas law does prohibit the sale of e-cigarettes to people under 18-years old, which Tran said he completely agrees with.
E-cigarettes have been in the Lawrence market for awhile now, but Tran said many times the product is sold alongside traditional cigarettes. Tran said he wanted to open a store that sold only the e-cigarettes because he believes smokers become too tempted when they enter a tobacco store.
"My goal is to help people quit smoking," Tran said. "I'm against tobacco 100 percent. It really is killing people."
The store is open seven days a week, from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Saturday, and from noon to 5 p.m. on Sunday.
In other news and notes from around town:
• When I'm smoking, it usually is the result of me touching a wrong wire as part of a home improvement project. And when it comes to home improvement projects, everybody seemingly wants to know the latest on Menards' plans to build a store in Lawrence.
In short, the project is still moving along, but is likely still a few months from pulling a building permit. Menards has filed its site plan application to build the previously-approved store on the site of the former Gaslight Mobile Home Park, just east of the Home Depot at 31st and Iowa streets.
As we've previously reported, the store has won its necessary zoning approvals from the Lawrence City Commission. Now the project is going through the administrative review that takes place at the Lawrence-Douglas County Planning Department.
From what I have heard, Menards officials are looking at tweaking some parts of the plan related to how traffic accesses the site. Now that Mendards has reached a deal to acquire the Snodgrass property immediately east of the mobile home park, the site has two main roads to serve the property — Ousdahl to the west and a new street on the eastern edge that will be named Michigan. The purchase of the Snodgrass property will allow for the construction of Michigan Street north of 31st Street.
The Planning Department has to review all those access issues before it can approve a site plan. I've also been told Menards officials are considering rearranging some of the other retail lots that are part of the project. The preliminary plans call for six other retail stores or restaurants to locate around the Menards store. There has been talk that Menards may seek to rearrange how the lot lines are drawn to convert an approximately one-acre pad site into about a five-acre pad site, which would allow the project to accommodate a secondary anchor tenant. No word yet on whether Menards is in discussion with possible tenants.
The bottom line is that the project must still get a preliminary plat, a final plat and a site plan approved before it can pull a building permit to start construction on the approximately 175,000-square-foot store. All those approvals are largely technical in nature and are not the types that typically derail a project. But they still may take a couple of months to get through the approval process, folks at City Hall tell me.
I talked to Menards' project manager for the location when he was in town last week, and he said that once a building permit is issued, it likely will take nine to 10 months to build the store.