A growing number of people have begun using electronic cigarettes as a way to kick the tobacco smoking habit. E-Cigarettes use a battery to heat up a nicotine-laced liquid. Users inhale the vapor, and exhale a water vapor that they claim is harmless to the environment and other people nearby.
Greg Hester first tried e-cigarettes two years ago, his last effort to kick a 21-year smoking habit.
"After four days, I had one final cigarette and I was halfway through it and I said, ‘I'm not enjoying this. I like the e-cigarette more,' so I put that one out. They have completely turned my life around, to be honest," Hester told Channel 2's Tony Thomas.
But DeKalb County's District Health Director isn't convinced there aren't harmful long term side-effects to the relatively new device. Dr. S. Elizabeth Ford has included the e-cigarettes in her plan to tighten DeKalb County's smoking ban.
"Right now there is no scientific evidence to speak to their safety," Ford said. "The other piece is that many of them contain nicotine, which is highly addictive, so while it may not be a tobacco issue, it's certainly an addiction issue."
DeKalb's current ordinance allows smoking at free-standing bars, adult entertainment businesses and outdoor venues, including parks. The proposal would ban smoking at all those places, plus playgrounds, entrances and exits to buildings and even lines at ATMs. The plan also decreases the number of rooms hotels can designate for smoking from 25 percent to 10 percent.
Health leaders said eliminating smoking in public places is a proven way to cut down on the number of tobacco related illnesses and deaths. Ford said e-cigarettes are a logical extension of the ban.
"We were sort of on the fence at first, but the more we've learned about them, the more uncomfortable we are about allowing them to move forward," she said.
But as Hester puffed his e-cigarette in a local park Thursday, he said he's not worried at all about any health risks.
"People ask me that and my answer to that is, ‘as opposed to cigarettes?' Because I would still be smoking if it weren't for these," he said.
Hester said e-cigarette users, also known as vapors, and smokers shouldn't be lumped into the same category.
"I think it's based on a knee jerk reaction that they still think it's smoking. I consider myself and most vapors consider ourselves non-smokers, since we are not smoking. Why put us out with the smokers?" Hester said.
The DeKalb County Board of Health has approved the plan. It is now in the hands of the Board of Commissioners for a final decision.