OAKLEY -- Overriding the arguments of e-cigarette advocates, the City Council agreed Tuesday to include the devices in a sweeping crackdown on public smoking.
Council members voted 3-1 to introduce an ordinance banning smoking -- along with "vaping," as the use of electronic cigarettes is known -- from city-owned properties, as well as from restaurants' outdoor dining areas and the exteriors of other businesses such as shopping centers, car dealerships, movie theaters and bus shelters.
Councilman Doug Hardcastle cast the dissenting vote; Councilwoman Carol Rios was absent.
Once it takes effect next month, the ordinance will make Oakley the fourth city in the county to regulate the use of e-cigarettes; Concord, Richmond and Walnut Creek already have adopted similar rules, as has the county for unincorporated areas.
Pittsburg also is considering restrictions on e-cigarettes, and its City Council is scheduled to vote on the matter Monday.
Oakley council members changed only one aspect of the ordinance they had been contemplating; rather than establishing a blanket prohibition of minors possessing or using e-cigarettes, the revamped wording allows them access at home as long as they have written parental permission.
The amendment stemmed from the suggestion that some parents might want to give e-cigarettes to a child who's smoking, thinking they could help wean him or her off tobacco.
Much of the council's deliberation revolved around the possible health risks of e-cigarettes, although both proponents and critics of the ordinance agreed that research on this increasingly popular alternative to conventional cigarettes has produced few definitive findings as yet.
The battery-powered devices contain flavored solutions that vaporize as they heat up. Although the "e-liquids" aren't combustible like tobacco, many contain nicotine.
City Special Counsel Bill Galstan noted that, so far, neither the U.S. Food & Drug Administration nor the Surgeon General has determined that e-cigarettes pose a danger.
On the other hand, nicotine, apart from its addictive qualities, raises blood pressure by constricting blood vessels, Galstan said, adding that e-liquids also contain heavy metals.
Most council members didn't want to gamble with the public's health, noting that cigarettes were also thought to be safe for years before researchers discovered otherwise.
But a representative from the California Vapor Association insisted that e-cigarettes aren't a hazard and said the council's "overreaching" stance wouldn't stand up to a legal challenge.
For his part, Hardcastle considers the ordinance an infringement on personal rights and dismissed the contention that the scented vapors can be a public nuisance, saying he has been within a few feet of e-cigarette users and hasn't smelled anything.
Oakley resident Stefan Didak agreed, saying that if the city intends to regulate odors that might bother others, it should extend the rules to perfumes.
Adopting an ordinance that lumps e-cigarettes with tobacco products also means that those who want to continue using the electronic gadgets will be forced to do so alongside tobacco smokers -- and inhale secondhand smoke -- at whatever spots remain where people legally can still indulge their habit, said resident Sallie Goettsch.
"Are you sure you want to be responsible for that?" she asked the council.
Reach Rowena Coetsee at 925-779-7141. Follow her at Twitter.com/RowenaCoetsee.