SFO banned electronic cigarettes earlier this month and now the city is in the first stages of banning them. The plan is to fold them into the current smoking ordinance, saying that anything that looks, feels or functions like a cigarette is a cigarette and has to be banned from public places. It is a blow to people who say e-cigarettes are a great substitute to regular cigarettes.
Heather Ayeres uses an e-cigarette. She has been smoking since she was 14 and sees an electronic cigarette as a healthy alternative.
"They feel like a cigarette when you hold them, they work like a cigarette, but they don't have the bad properties of cigarettes," Ayeres said.
Electronic cigarettes contain a battery where the tobacco would normally go as well as a heating element and a container where the filter is for the nicotine that many smokers crave.
But the San Francisco Health Department says if it looks like a cigarette and acts like a cigarette it is a cigarette and needs the same restrictions. Dr. Tomas Aragon, the city's health officer, says e-cigarettes are just another nicotine delivery system and send a message to youth that some smoking is OK.
"The big concern is the ability for people to become addicted to nicotine and also to be smoking in an environment where smoking is not permitted," Aragon said.
The Tobacco Vapor Electronic Cigarette Association says a ban is ignorant and the cigarettes are not dangerous or unhealthy and are much better than smoking regular cigarettes.
"To have a product and ban a product you have to show cause, you have to show at one point in time that this product has harmed someone," group spokesperson Ray Story said.
Story says the ingredients in the cigarettes are all FDA approved. They do not emit harmful second hand smoke and they can be used in public places like restaurants without bothering anyone else.
Heather Ayeres agrees.
"I think it's up to the public place; I don't think people should be able to use them without asking," she said.
Smoke shops in the city say the e-cigarettes are gaining in popularity and are hard to keep on the shelves. Aragon means to change that.
"We already have laws in place around tobacco consumption and by redefining what we mean by tobacco consumption we should be able to go ahead and include this," he said.