Richard Gadourey started smoking cigarettes when he was 13 years old. But last year he switched to smoking e-cigarettes and has since noticed an improvement in his health.

“I don’t wake up coughing. I’m more athletic and I can run and be fine,” said the 21-year-old Portland resident.

But Gadourey may soon find it more difficult to get his nicotine fix. The Portland City Council is considering an ordinance that would treat e-cigarettes just like tobacco products, which are banned in the city’s public spaces. The council will hold a public hearing and could vote on the proposal at its meeting Monday night.

LAWMAKERS LOOK AT REGULATION

Nationally, three states and 274 municipalities regulate e-cigarettes like cigarettes, according to the American Nonsmokers Rights Foundation, a nonprofit advocacy group.

Maine law currently prohibits the sale and possession of e-cigarettes by minors under the age of 18. While state law doesn’t currently restrict where e-cigarettes may be used, the Legislature is considering a bill that would regulate e-cigarettes like traditional cigarettes.

The city of Portland already has a relatively strict anti-smoking ordinance. In addition to prohibiting smoking in restaurants, the council in 2013 expanded its ordinance to prohibit smoking in city parks, recreation areas, beaches and playgrounds.

The council’s Public Safety Health and Human Services Committee directed city staff to collect information about e-cigarettes, said Bethany Sanborn, the city’s manager of the chronic disease prevention program.

“I have gotten calls from residents who are concerned and wanted to know if our current ordinance applied to e-cigarettes,” Sanborn said.

“It was difficult to interpret whether the council would have wanted them included at the time, so that’s why it’s being sent back to council.”

The four-member committee unanimously endorsed including e-cigarettes in the smoking ban in April. Mayor Michael Brennan said in an email that he supports the proposal.

USE IS EXPANDING

E-cigarettes, also known as electronic nicotine delivery systems, are battery-operated devices that heat up a liquid containing varying levels of nicotine and other flavoring chemicals into a vapor that is inhaled by the user.

Users claim that e-cigarettes are an effective tool to help people quit cigarettes. Unlike nicotine patches, gum and medications, e-cigarettes are not approved by the Federal Drug Administration as a legitimate method to quit smoking.

Both proponents and opponents of e-cigarettes point to a rise in e-cigarette usage to support their arguments.

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the number of middle and high schoolers who reported using an e-cigarette within the last 30 days tripled in the last year and in 2014 surpassed the use of every other tobacco product.

The CDC’s 2014 National Youth Tobacco Survey showed reported usage among high schoolers increased from 4.5 percent (660,000 kids) to 13.4 percent (or 2 million kids), while the number of middle schoolers using them increased from 1.1 percent (120,000 kids) to 3.9 percent (450,000 kids).

“We want parents to know that nicotine is dangerous for kids at any age, whether it’s an e-cigarette, hookah, cigarette or cigar,” CDC Director Tom Frieden said in a written statement on April 16. “Adolescence is a critical time for brain development. Nicotine exposure at a young age may cause lasting harm to brain development, promote addiction, and lead to sustained tobacco use.”

The Maine CDC is in the process of collecting state-level information, according to spokesman John Martins.

‘VICE OF LEAST CONSEQUENCE’

John Kreis, the co-owner of the Old Port Vape Shop on Market Street, said e-cigarettes are misunderstood because they are so new. He said the shift from traditional cigarettes, which contain carcinogens in addition to nicotine, to e-cigarettes, which can be nicotine-free, is a good thing.

He believes e-cigarettes, which hit the market around 2007, will be viewed as one of the best inventions in history – one that will reduce smoking-related deaths and the number of children smoking cigarettes.

“You have to look at the big picture,” Kreis said. “It’s a vice, but it’s a vice of least consequence.”

Kreis estimated that 99 percent of his customers are former cigarette smokers and that he discourages the other 1 percent from trying e-cigarettes.

The FDA does not regulate e-cigarettes as it does cigarette tobacco. But the federal agency wants to begin regulating e-cigarettes as well as cigars, pipe tobacco, hookah tobacco and novel products like nicotine gels and dissolvables.

The agency is accepting public comment through July 2.

The lack of regulation means that manufacturers of the liquid that is turned into vapor do not have to disclose their ingredients, including the amount of nicotine and other potentially toxic chemicals.

DEBATE OVER HEALTH

There are nearly 80 different flavors of vaping liquid at the Old Port Vape Shop with nicotine levels of zero to 18 milligrams. Many of the flavors are available for testing by customers in nicotine-free doses. On the menu Friday were flavors like mango pineapple, apricot, kiwi watermelon and blueberry citrus.

On Friday afternoon, about a half-dozen customers who appeared to be just over the age of 18 sampled the flavors enthusiastically, producing thick, sweet-smelling vapor clouds that quickly dissipated.

Aaron Truman, 19, of South Portland said it was “ridiculous” that the city would propose restrictions on vaping. E-cigarettes have helped him stop smoking after two years and improved his asthma.

“These are so much better for you than cigarettes,” Truman said.

Mike Dart, 24, of Portland still smokes cigarettes, but has tried vaping a few times. He said he is inclined to switch to e-cigarettes and doesn’t understand why the city would treat the two the same, noting that cigarettes are known to cause cancer and other harmful health effects.

“Secondhand smoke is so much more offensive than this,” said Dart, as a friend vaped nearby.

But groups like the American Lung Association of New England are encouraging the council to enact restrictions until there is evidence to back up anecdotal claims about the safety of e-cigarettes.

Ed Miller, spokesman for the American Lung Association, said the group supports the proposed restrictions because there are no studies that prove e-cigarettes and their vapor are safe.

“If you’re polluting the air, the burden is on you to prove your pollution is not harmful to others,” he said. “It’s not on the people who want to breathe healthy air.”