The City Council voted 7-1 Monday night to prohibit people from using e-cigarettes in public places, making Portland the 275th U.S. community to restrict use of the relatively new technology.

Businesses like Old Port Vape, however, can continue to allow customers to use their products in their stores.

The council vote added e-cigarettes to the city’s anti-smoking ordinance, which was updated in 2013 to prevent smoking in public spaces, such as parks, beaches, restaurants and playgrounds.

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 method to quit smoking.

Public health advocates argue that using e-cigarettes – also known as vaping – should be prohibited in public until more research is conducted, while others say the ban would only encourage people to keep smoking cigarettes.

Sarah Mayberry, of the Public Health Association, urged the council to take “swift action on this emerging health threat.”

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.

Caitlyn Connors, however, opposed the ordinance. She said that e-cigarettes have helped her quit a 12-year smoking habit. She hasn’t smoked a cigarette in 1½ years and has been inhaling nicotine-free vapor for the last month.

Connors said ignorance about the safety of the vapor emitted is no excuse to ban it in public.

“I feel like ‘we don’t know’ is an unacceptable answer in the realm of public service,” said Connors, who gave councilors studies noting the safety of vapors. “I’d rather hear, ‘We don’t know, but we will find out.’ ”

Dr. Michael Bell, a Scarborough resident who spends a lot of time in Portland, said e-cigarettes are helping people quit smoking and that regulating them like tobacco will encourage people to keep smoking cigarettes.

“It’s scientifically inaccurate to equate vaping with tobacco,” said Bell, who said nicotine by itself is no more harmful than coffee or French fries.

“I have no love for tobacco or smoking or anything along those lines,” he said. “This could save more lives than we could possibly imagine.”

Councilor David Marshall, however, noted that the proposal would “level the playing field” between traditional cigarettes and vapes, which wouldn’t make one more attractive than another.

“It’s not any more restrictive than that over people who would be using cigarettes,” Marshall said.

ACTING CITY MANAGER NAMED

In other business Monday night, the council voted unanimously to appoint Police Chief Michael Sauschuck as the acting city manager.

Sauschuck will take over as the city’s top administrator when the current acting manager, Sheila Hill-Christian, departs for a job in Cincinnati on May 8. Councilors had to look deep into the city’s ranks to find a replacement because Hill-Christian was doing the jobs of both the city manager and the deputy city manager. Significant turnover in several other top jobs at City Hall has also limited the number of potential candidates with the experience and knowledge of city operations.

But councilors expressed confidence that Sauschuck, a city employee for the last 18 years who oversees a department with a budget of $14.4 million and more than 200 employees, would do well in his new role, which is expected to last a couple of months. In his temporary role as acting manager, he will oversee a $221 million budget and more than 1,400 employees.

“Michael Sauschuck is an excellent manager (and) I think he’s proven that in the Police Department,” Marshall said. “I think he will be an excellent manager in City Hall for awhile.”

Sauschuck, whose salary will increase to $148,000 from $111,000, steps into his new role in the middle of the city’s budget deliberations and at a time when the city is under fire from the LePage administration over its welfare policies.

Deputy Police Chief Vern Malloch will serve as interim police chief, and Anita LaChance, the director of recreation and facilities, will serve as the acting deputy city manager.

CAPITAL IMPROVEMENTS

The council also voted 7-1 Monday to approve an $18.7 million capital improvement program, including a $7 million emergency upgrade of the city’s emergency communications system.

The system is 15 years old and “creates an unacceptable public safety risk,” according to a staff memo to councilors.

Some residents questioned whether the emergency declaration was only a way to avoid going out to a referendum, but Sauschuck said the vendor has declared the system at the end of its useful life and could have problems replacing parts.

Sauschuck said the system has already failed once, requiring the department to dispatch police officers via cellphone.

“There’s no doubt in my mind this is an emergency,” said Councilor Nicholas Mavodones, who chairs the council’s finance panel. “I don’t think the committee was ready to roll the dice with people’s lives and people’s property.

City Councilor Jon Hinck voted against the CIP, because of concerns about property tax increases. He said the budget should only be about $12 million.

He also believed the cost of the communication system should have been put to voters – a process that other councilors described as disingenuous, since the city would be replacing the system regardless of how residents would have voted.

“It’s not that much more of an emergency a year later,” Hinck said. “We should not be approving this much money at this time.”

In addition to the communications system, the city would spend $1.3 million to replace the Fire Department’s Ladder 1 truck; $4 million in sewer and storm-water projects; $2.7 million in facilities improvements, including Little League field upgrades at Lyseth Elementary School; $1.6 million in transportation projects – mostly street paving; $1.1 million in parks, fields and trails – including $565,000 for Capisic Pond improvements; and $73,000 each for public arts and Land Bank projects.