SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- San Francisco, along with 120 other cities around the country, has done it; and now state Senator Mark Leno, D-San Francisco, wants all of California to regulate e-cigarettes.
E-cigarettes were once a novelty, but now they are becoming increasingly popular. The FDA says it's concerned about the health risks, and Leno says their use should be limited.
"We don't even know what is in those concoctions," he said.
Leno says it's time to regulate e-cigarettes under California's Smoke Free Act.
The battery operated devices heat up liquid nicotine that is inhaled and exhaled. It's what users call vaping. Leno says they should be treated like other tobacco products. That means a ban in restaurants, bars, public transit, and other spaces.
"Amazingly, this is now a multi-billion dollar industry wholly unregulated, untaxed operating on its own," Leno said. "And we know there is great risk to public health, to individual health of these users."
But exactly what the risk is is debatable. A study published last week in the New England Journal of Medicine found that users who turn up the heat on the vaporizers are exposed to high levels of formaldehyde. But Christopher Chin, owner of Gone With The Smoke vapor lounge in San Francisco, says that's not what regular users do.
"It's kind of like saying, you know, cars are dangerous if you drive them at 800 miles an hour around a curve when you're eating a bagel," he said. "So yes, it's the same thing. If they test it in a manner that it's not supposed to, of course it'll be dangerous."
And the head of the American Vaping Association says: "This bill irresponsibly sends the message to California's 3.6 million adult smokers that vaping may be no less hazardous than continuing to inhale burning cigarette smoke."
The FDA has proposals giving it authority to review and regulate e-cigarettes but nothing has been finalized. UC Berkeley environmental scientist John Balmes, Ph.D., supports FDA involvement, but he also thinks the devices might be useful in helping traditional smokers quit.
"It's better, I think, health wise than smoking cigarettes," he said. "Even though it's probably not totally safe."
Another of Leno's colleagues recently tried and failed to get the legislature to pass restrictions. He blames lobbying by the tobacco industry, but is hopeful his measure will survive.