On the surface, this may not seem like a big deal to most vapor consumers. Most experienced vapers either don't find it necessary to vape where smoking is prohibited or can easily vape discreetly enough to go unnoticed. However, the reason I oppose these bans has nothing to do with any desire to vape in an Applebee's or at a Home Depot. My concern is the unintended consequences of such bans to overall public health.
Vapor bans send the wrong message to the public - especially smokers.
Ban advocates believe the message vapor bans send is "You should quit smoking." However, the unintended message to smokers and pre-smokers is "Vaping is banned like smoking, therefore, vaping is as bad as smoking. So if you smoke, you may as well keep smoking. If you don't smoke yet and are considering smoking, vaping isn't any safer than smoking."
This message, as we all know, is patently false. Just about every anti-vapor group has (if even reluctantly) admitted that vaping is safer than smoking, especially when it comes to so-called "second-hand vapor."
Dr. Thomas Glynn, former director of cancer science and trends and director of international cancer control for the American Cancer Society wrote, "The secondhand vapor, or aerosol, from e-cigarettes is, in general, less harmful than secondhand cigarette smoke."
"If we do not step forward and consider bold actions such as embracing the potential of e-cigarettes and other harm reduction agents then we, and the next generations, may have to confront the challenge laid down by former World Health Organization Director-General Dr. Gro Harlem Brundtland when she said:
"If we do not act decisively today, 100 years from now our grandchildren and their children will look back and seriously question how people claiming to be committed to public health and social justice allowed the tobacco epidemic to unfold unchecked."
Former Surgeon General, Dr. Richard Carmona, who highlighted the possible dangers of secondhand smoke and supported a ban on all tobacco products said, "We still have one out of five people in America smoking ... there's a lot more work to do. To dismiss (e-cigarettes) and not even consider it ... would be a disservice to the public who are looking for alternatives."
Former American Lung Association CEO Chuck Connor said, “Electronic cigarettes provide the only true alternative to traditional tobacco products, offering adult smokers a similar experience without the same consequences.”
Mitch Zeller, director of the Food and Drug Administration's Center for Tobacco Products said, “If we could get all of those people [who smoke] to completely switch all of their cigarettes to noncombustible cigarettes, it would be good for public health."
Ban supporters may believe they are helping stop smoking, but really they are eliminating a very important incentive for smokers to switch to a far safer alternative.
Vapor bans focus on the low risk of an unproven youth "gateway effect," while ignoring high risks to the children exposed to actual smoking.
Ban proponents believe they are protecting all children from possible health risks of second-hand vapor and tobacco control gains in public health by "de-normalizing" smoking behaviors. Unfortunately, such bans do nothing to protect the children of smokers and smoking youth, who are at far greater risk.
Vapor products do not promote the smoking of traditional cigarettes, nor do they threaten the gains of tobacco control over the past few decades. In fact, by normalizing vapor products over traditional smoking, the efforts of tobacco control are being supported. If anything, vapor products de-normalize conventional smoking by setting the example of smokers choosing a far less harmful alternative to traditional smoking. The CDC youth surveys clearly show that there has been no “gateway effect” causing non-smokers to start smoking. As vapor products have become more popular, all available evidence is showing that more and more smokers are quitting traditional cigarettes, including youth smokers.
Studies show that the children of smokers have a significantly higher risk of smoking initiation and the longer their parents smoke, the higher that risk. On the other hand, children of parents who had quit smoking were no more likely to smoke than children of parents who had never smoked. Children of non-smokers are more than 3X less likely to smoke, regardless of their exposure to smoking behaviors seen in public, on television or in advertising. Therefore, vapor bans that purport to protect the low-risk children of non-smoking parents from seeing smoking behaviors completely overlook the unintended consequences of the extremely high risks from continued exposure to smoking behaviors by the children of smokers (who may have otherwise quit if vapor products had not been prohibited in public spaces.)
Vapor bans propose they "err on the side of caution," but the benefits do not outweigh the risks.
To err on the side of caution, one must also look for unintended consequences. Are you being cautious of the right thing? Do the benefits of a law outweigh the risks?
Smoking bans propose to protect bystanders from second-hand smoke, which has been established as being a minor health risk, but one far lower than actually smoking. Vapor products reduce the risk of smoking to far lower than even second-hand smoke, so the health risks of second-hand vapor would logically be hundreds of times lower than even second-hand smoke. The only benefit of including vapor products in smoking bans is protecting bystanders from infinitesimal levels of just a tiny fraction of the chemicals found in second-hand smoke. Meaning, vapor bans propose to protect people from very tiny risks.
"I didn't want to go outside in the cold to smoke, so I bought an e-cig. Next thing I knew, I wasn't even smoking anymore."
- Steve M.
On the other hand, there is a unique phenomenon observed and documented with vapor product consumers called “accidental quitting.” Smokers purchase a vapor product to use where they cannot smoke, to remain indoors during cold weather or because they are less expensive and find, over time, that they prefer the vapor product to their conventional cigarettes. They move from dual use (using both the vapor product and conventional cigarettes) to using just the vapor product alone. This can happen over several months or in just a few days.
Put simply, laws that result in just one smoker still smoking because an important incentive has been compromised causes far greater harm than hundreds of bystanders exposed to vapor in public spaces.
Vapor bans affect private businesses already hurting from smoking bans, but also vapor shops.
Smoking bans were not intended for public “comfort.” Smoking bans were intended to protect the public from second-hand smoke, the dangers of which were ostensibly science-based. The science on vapor products overwhelmingly shows they have miniscule risks to bystanders, if any. The comfort of patrons and employees of privately-owned businesses is the responsibility of the owners of that business. If an employer or owner finds that the vapor from vapor consumers is a distraction or discomfort, the decision to prohibit use on their property should be their's alone. Contrarily, if the owner of a bar, tobacco store or e-cigarette store decides he wishes to cater to vapor product consumers that should be his prerogative.
It should be noted that adult vapor consumers expect to be able to try flavors before purchasing. Prohibiting indoor use would force customers outside to sample vapor products. An additional consideration should be made for businesses that cater to adult smokers. One unintended consequence of smoking bans has been the increase in litter and late-night noise outside of such establishments. Smokers who have switched to e-cigarettes currently remain inside, reducing the noise.
Vapor bans will expand as smoking bans expand.
Again, this creates a disincentive for elderly and handicapped smokers to switch. Instead, they will continue to go out into the cold, often at night and in high-risk neighborhoods. Some may be forced to walk far from the building, because they are required to leave the property. Additionally, some municipalities are starting to prohibit smoking in outdoor spaces, such as beaches and parks, where vapor wouldn’t be noticeable in any way. It makes no sense to apply these same rules to low-risk vapor products.
A message to lawmakers: this isn't about me.
Often, when confronted with opposition by vapor advocates, lawmakers assert that the intent is not to ban the products altogether. They try to assure their constituents that they are not banning the sale of vapor products to adult smokers and the devices can still be used in where smoking is allowed.
However, this misses the point completely. Vapor advocates aren’t there to ensure they can still use their products in a store, office building, restaurant or bar. As I wrote earlier, experienced vapor consumers know that enforcement of the ban is nearly impossible.
The reason advocates are standing before you and telling their stories about how vapor products have changed their lives is not because they are fighting for themselves. They are fighting for all of the smokers who haven’t yet quit. They want you to know how banning e-cigarette use will deny other smokers of their success story. They are fighting to keep every incentive possible available to encourage smokers to switch. They want you to consider the uninteded consequence of the law. They want you to understand how treating vapor products like conventional cigarettes will just keep smokers smoking and even possibly push those dual users completely back to smoking, by removing their only incentive to quit.
And that's why I fight vapor bans (and why you should, too.)