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Health board in new territory with vaping ban

Post by Kim Bradford on May 5, 2011 at 8:07 pm with 5 Comments »
May 5, 2011 8:08 pm

This editorial will appear in Friday’s print edition.

Let’s dispense first with the easy call: The Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department board absolutely should ban sales of battery-powered cigarettes to minors.

There exists no justifiable reason to allow teenagers ready access to any nicotine-delivery device – certainly not one that is designed to perpetuate a social ritual that preys on youthful insecurities and could create new smokers.

Cigarettes cannot be sold to those under 18 years of age, nor can over-the-counter nicotine patches and gum. Electronic cigarettes should be no different.

Now, for the tougher nut: whether to restrict adults’ use of the smoking alternative. The Board of Health is considering proposed regulations that would extend the ban on smoking in public places to e-smoking or “vaping.”

The health department, long a dogged foe of tobacco use, is treading new ground.

The agency’s courageous 2003 indoor smoke ban and its work since to enforce and extend restrictions on smokers has been based on clear evidence that smoking is a public health threat.

So too the state’s smoking ban, adopted by citizen initiative in 2005 after Pierce County’s ban was overturned in court.

The law was sold to voters as a matter of workplace safety. Secondhand smoke poses a demonstrable health risk to the waiters and bartenders forced to breathe smokers’ exhaust 40 hours a week.

But the jury is still out on electronic cigarettes. While no one argues that nicotine in any form is benign, the magnitude of harm – and how far its reach – remains an open question. All that researchers seem to agree on is that e-cigs are less dangerous than the real deal.

Health department officials argue that uncertainty about vaping’s toxins and toxicity makes the case for acting now to preempt possible ill effects.

Making public policy on the basis of unknown health risks is a tricky – and usually inadvisable – business. More compelling is the concern about losing ground in the fight against smoking.

The state smoking ban has helped dramatically reduce smoking rates. In 2000, about 35 percent of Pierce County adults smoked. In 2009, the number dropped to an all-time low of 17 percent.

That reduction is good news for public health and for taxpayers. The fewer smokers, the less society spends to treat their inevitable health problems.

The success in reducing smoking rates can be partially attributed to the out-of-sight, out-of-mind phenomenon. Smokers are huddled under an awning down the street these days, rather than puffing away at the bar.

Fake smokes, many of which look almost indistinguishable from real cigarettes, keep smoking in the public eye and help normalize the act of lighting up.

But then again, so do episodes of “Mad Men.”

The Board of Health will have to decide if the risk of eroding beneficial social norms outweighs the intrusion on personal behavior. At the outset, the scale is tipped in favor of the least restrictive approach.

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  1. OutSydeDog says:

    Good thing the Health Dept wasn’t around when Henry Ford started making cars. Do you know how many people they kill? Yeah, let’s be…premptive on this one. Gimme a break, go do your job and look for bad salad bars.

  2. OutSydeDog says:

    Wow, if the number of smokers has dropped in half, then it would follow that the tax revenue, which helps fund health care, would be half also. Is that the case, or do they just make up these numbers?

    And a “less restrictive” approach? Watch it, you might be leaning towards freedom of the individual, which is totally unacceptable these days. I can’t wait for the next rule to dictate and overrule whatever choices I want in and for my life.

  3. Banning the use of e-cigarettes indoors is preposterous. E-cigarettes are a boon to public health — every e-cigarette puffed on means one less tobacco cigarette being used. I know people who have completely quit smoking with an e-cigarette, and I also know people with severe allergies to smoke that have ZERO problem being around e-cig users.

    The Board of Health really needs to jump back into reality on this one.

  4. Ribeyes and PrimeRib have a much higher fat content than say Sirloin Steak. Next year will you have to prove that you have no children or dependants to be allowed to buy a cut of meat that has a fattier content than another cut. Our Health Dept. is nuts. Tobacco is a legal product, either outlaw it or quit this craziness. And I am NOT a smoker, and hate the smell of smoke. I chose to frequent non-smoking bars prior to the ban mostly, just as a personal preference.

  5. mattzuke says:

    There is the obvious benefit of not having a ban of people like myself continuing to use personal vaporizers at Point Defiance and encouraging actual smokers to use the alternative which all objective evidence, including a strongly biased report by the FDA, is at it’s worst on par with the nicotine patch. It benefits ex-smokers and non-smokers alike as it provides an alternative that you can’t smell 50 feet away. Switching from flaming to vapor isn’t easy, and if the goal is to stop people from smoking it makes no sense to have vapors relegated to the smoking awning where they’re tempted by real cigs and end up stinking to boot.

    RCW 70.160 was the direct result of blood, sweat, and tears, but most of all objective scientific evidence that has been observed, tested, and the results repeated that smoking causes harm, and second hand smoking causes harm. Opponents to personal vaporizers don’t even have this, only conjecture and the speculation that because it looks like smoking it would encourage others to smoke. While e-cig supporters only have anecdotal evidence, when over 100 people in Pierce County say they have quit smoking it’s time for the health community to put the scientific method to use, be skeptical, and objectively test the hypothesis. Until more information comes to light, the evidence would support the idea that e-cigs for smokers reduces or eliminates real cigarette use, thus should be studied, not feared.

    Until a huge body of published research exists, Pierce County is proposing a restriction on my free speech, my freedom to tell kids that smoking is so additive that as an adult I presently have to pretend to smoke to not smoke.

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