The city's "vap" shops won the day at city hall Wednesday, after council voted unanimously to draft a bylaw to ban "vaping" anywhere tobacco is banned, with the notable exception of e-cigarette stores.
The shops have become increasingly popular in recent years, as people look for alternatives to help them quit smoking, or at least replace one habit with another that may be less harmful.
More than a dozen e-cigarette shop owners and users appealed to the city's community services committee last month for a change to the proposed ban.
When the proposed new bylaw next goes before council, it would allow customers and staff to puff on e-cigarettes or devices called "vaporizers" inside the shops, provided they don't share common space with other businesses.
Coun. Bryan Anderson spoke eloquently about the need to exempt such specialty shops from the ban.
The liquids sold for use in the vaporizers come in a wide and growing variety of flavours and contain various concentrations of nicotine, or sometimes none at all.
Anderson said many people who "vap," as the habit is called, do so because they want to quit smoking and need some way to slowly wean themselves off nicotine.
"I would hate myself if there were people out there who found a way to quit (smoking) by using e-cigarette materials, and I stood in their way," he told fellow councillors.
One of those people is Bryan Kennedy. He said he started smoking when he was 14, and was up to a pack and a half a day. He survived cancer, and tried for years to quit cigarettes.
These days he visits a vap shop about twice a week and said it has changed his life.
"Since I started vaping, I haven't had one cigarette," he said. "I've got a young daughter, and I can actually keep up with her now."
Coun. Michael Walters supported the exemption as "a reasonable compromise" but said he has some concerns the bylaw may need to be changed again if Health Canada decides to regulate e-cigarettes.
Atul Kalia, owner of two local shops that sell e-cigarettes and vaporizers, said he was pleased with council's decision.
"We're ecstatic that they've exempted 'vap' shops from testing e-cigarettes, testing e-liquids and e-cigarette products or vaporizers," he said. "I would rather this had been separate legislation altogether. But I think we're moving in the right direction."
He said the materials sold in his and other shops have helped many smokers quit.
Shoppers who visit the shops have to be able to try the products, and new users often need demonstrations to understand how to use them and to see them as a substitute for smoking, he added.
"I realize this is nicotine that we're talking about," he said, noting e-cigarettes don't contain tobacco products.
Mayor Don Iveson said several councillors made "reasonable arguments" in favour of the exemption.
"I wanted to make sure we didn't set up cafes or bars that were accidental 'vap' shops turned into hang-out spots," he said.
After the meeting Anderson, a former long-time smoker, said he knows from experience how hard it is to quit the habit.
"People are addicted to either the nicotine or the actual habit of smoking, or a combination of both," he said. "I think e-cigarettes allow people to wean themselves off of nicotine. I would be sad if I stood in the way of giving somebody that opportunity."