A personal opinion on the ramifications of relegating vapers to smoking sections.
NYC and LA Threaten to Restrict E-Cig Use
This past Wednesday the most populous city in the United States held a public hearing to discuss a proposed amendment to the New York Clean Indoor Air Act. The bill, sponsored by NYC Councilman James F. Gennaro, seeks to regulate usage of electronic cigarettes the same way smoking is prohibited in public places like restaurants, bars, workplaces and parks. Those backing the bill argued it would be difficult to distinguish smoking from vaping, creating headaches for business owners. They also believe the devices are renormalizing smoking, making it attractive to children.
Nearly 2,800 miles away, the city of Los Angeles also held a public hearing to discuss and vote on two measures aimed at regulating e-cigs as tobacco products. The first, which was unanimously passed, regulates the sales of electronic cigarettes, requiring retailers to obtain tobacco licenses and bans sales from street kiosks, ice cream trucks and vending machines. However, a second bill would also ban usage in all places that tobacco is prohibited, forcing vapers into smoking sections when in public. This one will likely be voted on in two weeks.
SEE ALSO: Beverly Hills City Council Debate on E-Cig Ordinances
As a vaper I am wholeheartedly opposed to regulating e-cigarette usage the same way tobacco is regulated. There are several scientific studies which have tested and found the vapor from e-cigs to be magnitudes safer than the smoke from tobacco cigarettes and pose no threat to public health.
But I'm not here today to argue the safety of electronic cigarettes as I have already done that. I could also offer rebuttals to several of the points made by proponents of both the NYC and LA e-cigarette bills but I won't. Instead, I will offer my personal experience as to why relegating vapers to smoking sections will decrease the effectiveness of e-cigs and ultimately send more and more back to smoking.
Struggling to Find an Alternative
After smoking for 6 years I realized how much I was spending on cigarettes, especially living in NYC at the time where a pack cost me around $11. So I bought a box of Nicorette gum from the drug store for about $40 in hopes I could save some money by quitting smoking. I probably chewed a couple pieces before buying another pack of cigarettes. What a waste of money. The effect the gum produced on my nervous system was nothing like that of a cigarette. It made my lip tingle and did nothing else.
A couple years later I picked up a free box of nicotine patches from the NYC Department of Health. The patches helped me quit for a few days but as soon as I was around other smokers, which seemed to be everywhere I went, I had to have a cigarette. At least this time I didn't have to waste hard earned money on an ineffective smoking cessation product.
Fast forward another year and I'm living where I grew up, in sunny Southern California, at the dawn of the e-cig boom. My smoking is steady at around 12-13 cigarettes per day. Half the people I know are still smoking and I've seen maybe one or two people using e-cigarettes that have the appearance of a Bic pen.
E-cigarettes were never an instant fix or cure for my smoking addiction. They have only been on the US market for a little over 6 years now and are constantly evolving as a viable alternative to traditional and toxic tobacco cigarettes. As such, the first couple I tried were cheap and ineffective “cig-alikes” purchased from my local convenience store. I had expected them to taste more like a cigarette when they actually had no flavor at all, produced very little vapor and did have the physiological effect of the nicotine provided by a tobacco analog.
Eventually I found a local brick and mortar shop that specialized in higher-end electronic cigarettes and personal vaporizers. The shop had batteries of multiple sizes, ranging from pen shaped to those that looked like flashlights or even light sabers. They also sold tanks and e-liquids in a wide variety of flavors and nicotine concentrations. I wound up purchasing an “eGo-VV” with a small carto tank and a couple bottles of flavored nicotine juice.
The personal vaporizer, or PV, I purchased looked nothing like a cigarette and worked much better than the cheap cig-alike I threw away a several months prior. Yet I was still one of the only “vapers” out of my group of friends. The eGo served me well during the daytime hours while I was working as I didn't need to take smoke breaks and was never tempted by the smoking of co-workers. But as soon as I met up with my friends after work the sight of them lighting up again pushed my will power out the window and I had to bum one or two cigarettes.
Months later the e-cig boom hit like a wildfire, not only providing me a new job, but also put PVs in the hands and pockets of many of my friends. I upgraded to an advanced personal vaporizer, or mod, and haven't had a cigarette since. That was almost nine months ago on March 21st, 2013.
Overregulation Hinders Effectiveness
As my story illustrates, one of the biggest obstacles a smoker faces when quitting cigarettes is the instant craving he or she may receive at the sight or smell of someone else smoking a cigarette. This isn't exactly a revolutionary observation as someone who is trying to give up drinking is not going to hang out at a bar every day of the week. But just as the patch left me defenseless against cravings, being around other people smoking made it hard not to want to smoke, even though I had an e-cigarette.
It wasn't until those around me, people I saw on a daily basis, starting vaping that I was able to stop smoking. You might ask why I didn't use my electronic cigarette when a craving arose. The answer is that although e-cigs do an excellent job of mimicking the physical motions of smoking, they only deliver about 1/10th the nicotine of a cigarette to the blood stream. And I'm pretty certain there are other additives in cigarettes that I was addicted to.
In my opinion, e-cigarettes aren't renormalizing smoking. If they were, there wouldn't be so many people claiming they're bad just because the vapor they emit looks like smoke. There also wouldn't be people faking coughs and headaches when in the vicinity of someone who is vaping. And I am still one of the only e-cigarette users when out at Los Angeles' many live music venues. Vaping isn't cool; it's simply a healthier alternative to smoking that the public should stop worrying about.
Today, I no longer get cravings around other smokers but I know from experience what it's like to be freshly off cigarettes and notice someone lighting up. Furthermore, I only now realize how bad cigarette smoke really smells to a non-smoker. Even the smell of a smoker's clothes occasionally makes me nauseous.
The bills and subsequent e-cig usage restrictions proposed in both NYC and Los Angeles have hit home harder than most. Being a former resident of both cities and frequenter of one, I am now personally affected. Public health officials argue that e-cigarettes pose a threat to the progress made by anti-smoking legislation. That can't be right. I fear regulating them the same way smoking is treated poses more of a threat. I really hope grant money isn't in play here like it is in Oklahoma. Overregulating electronic cigarettes by forcing vapers into the smoking section is not only going to force me to inhale smoke which is thousands of times more toxic than the vapor from my e-cigarette, it will reduce the effectiveness of a product that has the potential to save millions of lives. So let's leave the decision on whether or not to allow vaping in public up to individual business owners and give everyone a choice.
photo credit: NYTimes