October 22 2013

Lights Out on E-Cigarettes

Patrice J. Lee

Banning e-cigarettes is the new frontier in the anti-tobacco or anti-smoking war. The battlefields have changed though. There is a new trend of colleges and universities banning the use of e-cigarettes on their campuses and throughout their university systems.

The University of Wisconsin System schools will begin to consider e-cigarettes among its tobacco policies along with Oklahoma State University. Beginning next year, e-cigs will banned along with all other tobacco products throughout the entire University of California System.

As we’ve reported before, e-cigarettes are battery-operated cigarettes that don’t use tobacco, but turn nicotine into vapor which a smoker can inhale to achieve the same affect. Created in China in the mid-2000s, they recently gained popularity in the United States particularly among young people. Perhaps it’s because they come in a variety of exotic flavors like cotton candy, pina colada, peach schnapps and kiwi.

Part of their attraction is that they are considered and marketed as a safer, healthier alternative to traditional cigarettes. School and health officials aren’t sold, however, and are raising an alarm:

E-cigarettes are a concern for officials because their secondhand effects are unknown, Sarah Van Orman, director of University Health Services, said. Although tobacco companies are marketing e-cigarettes as a safer alternative to traditional cigarettes, this may not necessarily be the case, she said.

“One of the things that’s not known about them is their secondhand effect or the effect it has on e-smokers,” Van Orman said. “The challenge with e-cigarettes is they’re a way to deliver nicotine very effectively and the concern is people are becoming addicted to nicotine. There’s a concern that they pose a risk to others, but there’s a lot that’s not known.”

Are school officials overreacting in their haste to ban or regulate e-cigarattes? It wouldn’t be the first time.  However, something else may be behind this push that isn’t just the unknown impacts of e-cigarettes. As an anti-tobacco crusader describes, they fear losing the ground they gained during the decades-long anti-tobacco war:

Maria Azzarelli, the tobacco-control program coordinator for the Southern Nevada Health District, believes e-cigarettes are threatening decades of anti-smoking campaigns that have changed social norms and perceptions about smoking.

In 1965, 42 percent of American adults were smokers. Today, it's less than half that figure, at 19 percent.

Azzarelli fears e-cigarettes could reverse the public’s views about smoking. After decades of anti-smoking commercials featuring emphysema patients breathing out of air tubes and poison signs on cigarette packs, e-cigarettes just might make smoking nicotine cool and glamorous again.

“People who may have never used a tobacco product are now using e-cigarettes,” Azzarelli said. “We’re very concerned that what’s becoming passe — smoking — is now coming back.”

These crusaders may get new ammo in their fight against e-cigs as the FDA seeks to expand its regulatory oversight over them by lumping them in with conventional cigarettes and smokeless tobacco. New regulatory power opens the door for greater restrictions on production, flavoring, advertising and online sales.

This is a head scratcher. If e-cigarettes don’t contain tobacco and their cancer-causing carcinogens, why is the FDA trying to get them lumped in with other tobacco products? I am no fan of smoking, but if e-cigs have not been proven to be harmful why the hoopla?

E-cigarettes are exposing the true motivations behind the anti-tobacco industry: to regulate smoking out of existence. They should be truthful: tobacco is just the means to that end. By the way, as much as I don't care for smoking, I must point out that there are many habits that do far more damage, far faster than smoking.

 

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