Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Scorning Smokers

Tobacco crackdowns target e-cigarettes, despite their lack of secondhand dangers, raising questions about the basis of current bans

San Francisco Bay Guardian
by Alex Montero
June 12, 2013

San Francisco officials are attempting to ban the public use of e-cigarettes under the same laws that restrict smoking cigarettes, which are banned in most public places purportedly because secondhand smoke endangers others. However, the alleged lack of toxic emissions from e-cigarette vapor raises questions about the basis for the crackdown.

Has the crusade against smoking in public really been about protecting the innocent, or is the moralistic motivation to try to save people from their own bad choices also driving the trend? And if so, does that undermine the legal basis for restricting an otherwise lawful product?
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Vaping isn't Smoking

E-cigarettes contain a battery operated heating device that vaporizes a combination of nicotine and a binding liquid such as propylene glycol, a substance "generally recognized as safe" by the FDA. Since nicotine is not what kills smokers, e-cigarettes have the potential to exist as a safe alternative for smokers who can feed both the physical and mental habit of smoking without the detrimental effects of tar and the plethora of other chemicals found in traditional cigarettes.

However, conflicting studies exist regarding the safety of e-cigarettes for both users and the public. While the FDA has yet to regulate e-cigarettes, a 2009 evaluation reported the finding of numerous chemicals in e-cigarette liquid, such as those found in antifreeze.

Gregory Conley, legislative director for The Consumer Advocates for Smoke-Free Alternatives Association, told us these reports are misleading.

"Essentially, there is absolutely no evidence that e-cigarette vapor poses any significant threat to public health," said Conley. "The antifreeze chemical was found in one of the 18 cartridges and tested in an amount that was less than 1 percent. Additionally, the amount of the chemical diethylene glycol found by the FDA would take thousands of cartridges to reach a toxic level."

Conley cites the publication Tobacco Control, a premier tobacco science journal in the US with no tobacco industry ties, as the leading evidence in the case for e-cigarettes. The study, funded by the National Institute of Health, tested 17 different brands of e-cigarettes for chemicals known to cause harm in secondhand smoke.

"These amounts were nearly identical to the amounts in the control product, or the FDA approved nicotine inhaler," said Conley. "They are trace levels, and anyone who has been in a room with an e-cigarette knows that there is a vast difference in comparison to a normal cigarette."

A study by the Fraunhofer Wilhelm-Klauditz-Institut in Braunschweig, Germany found similar results, reporting that the release of toxins from e-cigarettes were marginal to non-existent. In fact, researchers attributed many of the low level chemicals detected in the tests, such as formaldehyde and acetone, to the test subjects, since our lungs naturally exhale these chemicals in small amounts.

Conley says e-cigarettes not only provide a safe alternative, but also offer a public promotion of smoking cessation by illustrating the addicting effects of nicotine.

"It's a walking advertisement to show how addictive cigarettes are," Conley said. "The fact that you have to buy one of these things to quit smoking, with a battery and everything, it's ridiculous."

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