Out of Control Policy Blog

E-Cigarette Regulations Likely to Harm Anti-Smoking Efforts, Yet NYC Still Considers Ban

In my latest Orange County Register column, I note that the wave of regulations local officials are enacting or proposing to restrict the sale or use of e-cigarettes is more likely to harm public health instead of benefit it, primarily by making it more difficult for smokers to transition to safer nicotine delivery alternatives, thus keeping them smoking longer. Here's an excerpt:

The rationales for these regulatory actions vary, but often revolve around misplaced fears that e-cigarettes will serve as a gateway to the use of conventional cigarettes by kids and non-smokers, as well as misperceptions that e-cigarette vapor is as harmful as cigarette smoke to users and bystanders.

Both fears are unsupported by evidence. Regarding the “gateway” theory, the Register reported last month that a University of Oklahoma study found that only 43 out of 1,300 college students (3.3 percent) reported that e-cigarettes were the first form of nicotine they'd tried, with only one student later taking up regular cigarette smoking.

And there is growing evidence that e-cigarettes have nearly none of the harmful properties of conventional cigarettes, primarily because nothing is burned in “vaping,” so it doesn’t produce the cancer-causing toxins and multitude of chemicals that result from the combustion of tobacco. A study released by Drexel University’s School of Public Health this fall found no evidence that e-cigarettes expose users or bystanders to levels of contaminants that would warrant health concerns.

Despite the fact that 62 of Americans support governments allowing the use of e-cigarettes in public places, New York City is one of those cities where politicians seem bent on regulation...in this case, proposing to loop e-cigs into the city's public smoking ban. CASAA, the Consumer Advocates for Smoke-Free Alternatives Association, reports that the City Council may take action on the proposal as early as this week.

As reported today on Politico's Capital New York City Hall Pro newsletter, former U.S. Surgeon General Richard Carmona has sent a letter to NYC council members warning that the proposed regulation could be counterproductive to the city's anti-smoking efforts. An excerpt:

[...] Legislative action that would keep smokers smoking would obviously have serious health consequences – and could cost lives. Worse still, it could lead to the adoption of similar ordinances in other cities, creating a domino effect that would further magnify the potential public health danger in this scientifically unsupported approach.

I will also observe that the concerns expressed about the possibilities that electronic cigarettes could addict non-smokers, condemning them to a lifetime struggle with nicotine addiction, echo concerns expressed about nicotine gums and patches when these first were introduced to the market. We have seen clearly, however, that such products did not have that affect. At the same time, while gums and patches have helped a small minority of smokers successfully quit smoking, it is clear to those of us have been engaged in this battle that we need more impactful solutions to the continuing problem of tobacco smoking, and that is where we see electronic cigarettes playing a central role.

Read the full letter here. Be sure to check out this new Time article by Eliza Gray and today's New York Post op-ed by National Council for Public Policy Research senior fellow Jeff Stier as well. Also, be sure to check out Reason.com's archive of material on e-cigarettes here.

Leonard Gilroy is Director of Government Reform


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