Government moves to crack down on electronic cigarettes at the federal and local level have users feeling picked on. But some officials say limits on the habit are needed because the health effects of the nicotine devices remain largely unknown.

The Healdsburg City Council last week introduced an ordinance to prohibit e cigarette use in public and the workplace, similar to a move in January by the Petaluma City Council.

The local government moves preceded the Food and Drug Administration’s proposal Thursday to oversee the increasingly popular devices, much like it regulates traditional cigarettes.

Users say e cigarette vapor is healthier and less offensive than secondhand smoke.

“We feel as ‘vapos’ we are being discriminated against. We’re not using tobacco or tobacco products,” said Troy Scribner, owner of Vapin’ Up, a new e cigarette store in Healdsburg.

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“Cigarettes are only made for one thing just to kill you. E cigarettes are different,” said Scribner, 49, who said he was able to kick a decades old smoking habit with the electronic inhalers that simulate and substitute for burning tobacco.

But while e cigarette enthusiasts say they are great, government officials aren’t convinced.

The Healdsburg City Council on April 21 unanimously approved the ordinance prohibiting the use of the electronic cigarettes in public and work places.

“I think there are a lot of unknowns with e cigarettes,” Mayor Jim Wood said Thursday. “I’m concerned about young kids who can buy them very easily. There is still nicotine in them, which is addictive. Until there is more information about the health and safety of this, it ought to be treated like cigarettes.”

Just like the current Healdsburg prohibition against smoking in all enclosed places, e cigarettes will also be prohibited within 20 feet of building entrances and open windows, parks and outdoor seating areas for restaurants and bars.

The ordinance will go into effect 30 days after its second reading, or likely by early June.

And for good measure, the City Council also approved an immediate moratorium on any new e cigarette lounges and “vapor bars.” The urgency measure is good for 45 days, but the council is likely to extend it for a full year following another public hearing.

Scribner’s business, where customers can sample the e cigarettes, would be grandfathered in and not affected by the moratorium.

But he said the $2 billion e cigarette industry is just starting to gain momentum.

“You haven’t seen anything yet,” he said.

Aficionados say the e cigarette vapor doesn’t stink up their hair, clothes and breath, like tobacco smoke does. And they say that for the most part, it doesn’t offend nonsmokers.

“It doesn’t smell, and it doesn’t bother someone who doesn’t smoke,” said Kassandra Delgado, 20, who was “vapin’ ” Thursday inside Digital Ciggz, an electronic cigarette store in Santa Rosa on College Avenue.

Her nicotine tinged vapor came in a banana cinnamon sugar cookie flavor, one of more than 150 flavors available at the store.

She said cracking down on e cigarette use in public seems misguided, since they have fewer chemicals than ordinary cigarettes.

“It’s people trying to control everything. It doesn’t make a lot of sense to me,” said Delgado, who is in between jobs as a receptionist and paralegal.

Tim Polly, a store salesman, said e cigarettes come in flavors that range from tobacco only to black licorice, blue raspberry, apple pie and Irish cream.

Polly, who has asthma, said he used to smoke. Since switching to e cigarettes three years ago, however, “my lung capacity has gotten better. I don’t use an inhaler for asthma.”

Other local e cigarette users reported similar benefits losing their smoker’s cough, no more pain in their chest, no more night sweats in addition to being able to choose their level of nicotine, or none at all.

Even dogs and cats are friendlier when you shed the strong tobacco smell, Scribner said. “When you quit smoking, your animal comes up to you.”

But health officials are not convinced of the safety. There’s concern the devices will hook nonsmokers to nicotine and eventually lead more people to smoking.

Some activists have asked the FDA to ban flavored e cigarettes, saying they will hook children on nicotine.

And questions remain unresolved about the ingredients in e cigarettes. The American Lung Association said there is no scientific evidence establishing their safety.

Some e cigarettes submitted for initial FDA lab results in 2009 found detectable levels of toxic, cancer causing chemicals, including an ingredient used in anti freeze, Healdsburg City Attorney David Warner noted in his report.

“If the FDA comes back and says these are perfectly safe, we could come back and revisit it,” Mayor Wood said.

(You can reach Staff Writer Clark Mason at 521 5214 or )

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