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Will Virginia Succeed in Banning Vaping at Restaurants?

A bill that is now under consideration in the Virginia state legislature would prohibit the use of vapor products inside restaurants and public buildings throughout the state.

Alex Swerdloff

Photo via Flickr user Vaping360

Virginia may be known for growing tobacco—it's actually the third-largest tobacco-growing state in the US—but it also looks like it may join the charge to ban the use of e-cigarettes in restaurants. A bill that is now under consideration in the Virginia state legislature would prohibit the use of vapor products inside restaurants and public buildings throughout the state.

Only a few states—Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Maine, New Jersey, Oregon, and Utah—have statewide bans of vaping in bars and restaurants. But many other municipalities across the country have enacted bans. If the bill passes, Virginia, the birthplace of American tobacco, would be joining the states with a statewide prohibition.

The proposed bill covers the interior of restaurants and public buildings throughout Virginia. Smoking has been banned inside restaurants, movie theaters, and other public buildings since 2009 under the Virginia Indoor Clean Air Act. The bill, which was proposed by Democratic State Senator John C. Miller, would expand that law to include vapor products.

The Food and Drug Administration is studying vaping, and as MOTHERBOARD recently reported, new regulations are expected soon—and the vapor industry is quaking. They have plenty of reason to fear that the FDA will take a pretty strong position against them, deeming e-cigarettes to be in the same category as tobacco under federal laws.

State Senator Miller said the "science is still out" on e-cigarettes and that we need more research on the health impact they have not only on those who vape, but also on those around those who vape. Miller says, "We don't know if these e-cigarettes are safe or not, and I think we should err on the side of caution."

The science is certainly not settled yet. One meta-analysis by the Cleveland Clinic, which looked at 81 studies on vaping, found that e-cigarettes were a healthier alternative to regular cigarettes. The meta-study also found that vaping can help long-time smokers quit.

Local news WTVR-6 in Richmond, Virginia spoke with Pete Richardson who runs MadVapes, a source of electronic cigarettes in Glen Allen, Virginia. He said he was able to quit a 25-year smoking habit in two weeks, thanks to e-cigs. He said, "Don't automatically assume it's harmful; have knowledge behind it before you make a judgment." He also pointed to a Drexel University study that said there should be "no apparent concern" about the risk of e-cigarettes to bystanders.

Obviously, those in the vaping business, like Richardson, think the bill is unnecessary. He believes people should just be respectful and that vaping should not be outlawed in restaurants. "It is up to the vaping community to make a good name for the vaping industry," Richardson said.

The Virginia bill will soon be heard by that state's Local Government Committee, so it remains to seen if it will actually become law. Miller is hopeful that Virginia—ground zero for the American tobacco industry—will soon join the handful of states that have a statewide ban on vaping in restaurants.