This week the second-largest city in Kansas is adding electronic cigarettes to its ban on smoking in public places.
The move is an addition to current smoking bans already in place — and a ban that is being considered locally, though a ban is not foreseen in the immediate future.
"Right now it is just talk. It is not anything we have on the immediate radar — not allowing vaping," said Lorrie Kessler, chronic disease risk reduction coordinator for the Health Department. "They don't know if these are harmful, how harmful they are or if they are good for helping people stop smoking. "
Health Department director Lynette Reddington said the department has not approached any city or county commission to discuss a ban of e-cigarettes.
Current smoking ordinances in effect include a statewide law enacted in 2010 which prohibits smoking in most public indoor locations statewide. The city of Newton passed a smoking ordinance in 2008 which does not allow smoking in public indoor places, or within 20 feet of the public entrance of those places. Harvey County followed suit.
According to a 2011 attorney general's decision, electronic cigarettes are not subject to the statewide ban.
The only known local regulation on electronic cigarettes is a ban at Newton High School enacted last school year after students were using the products in class.
The expanded ordinance in Overland Park will take effect later this month. City Council members in the Johnson County community approved it this week.
Overland Park has prohibited smoking in hotel rooms, restaurants, workplaces and other public, indoor spaces for nearly a decade. The new ordinance adds electronic cigarettes to the ban.
The measure also makes it illegal to sell e-cigarettes to people under 18.
The health concerns of electronic cigarettes are not known.
"The (Food and Drug Administration) has not said if the steam is dangerous, or dangerous to the person standing next to the user. They don't know, there just is not enough research," Kessler said. "It is something that needs to be looked at — if it is safe for the people around the users. It is scientists and researchers who will look at that."
The FDA web site states that "E-cigarettes have not been fully studied" and that it is unknown what the potential risk of use are, how much nicotine or harmful chemicals may be inhaled or if there are any benefits associated with the use of electronic cigarettes.
In addition, the FDA states it is not known if the use of electronic cigarettes lead users to try traditional tobacco products which are "known to cause diesease and lead to premature death."
The FDA has proposed regulations that include banning sales to minors and requiring manufacturers to register all of their products and ingredients with the FDA.
"I like these proposals; the public needs clarity on smoking alternatives because we have 42.1 million adult tobacco smokers [CDC, 2012] who may be able to benefit from them," said Anthony Sarvucci, CEO of American Heritage International in a news release to the Newton Kansan.
American Heritage International is a company that develops e-cigarettes.
"The bottom line is that we know how terrible traditional cigarettes are for people, but there has been a vacuum of information about e-cigs, which leads to a great deal of misinformation, some fear-mongering, and even simply making stuff up," Sarvucci said.
— The Associated Press contributed to this report.