E-cigarettes

Clueless Legislators Deter Smokers From Vaping

California undermines public health by arbitrarily classifying e-cigarettes as tobacco products.

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On May 4, the day before the Food and Drug Administration officially classified e-cigarettes as "tobacco products," California did the same thing. Gov. Jerry Brown signed SBX2 5, which expands the definition of tobacco product under several statutes to include "an electronic device that delivers nicotine or other vaporized liquids to the person inhaling from the device." Among other things, the change means that vaping will be banned everywhere that smoking is prohibited and, since another bill signed by Brown raises the age for buying tobacco products from 18 to 21, adults younger than 21 will no longer be allowed to buy e-cigarettes.

California's policy shift is not as consequential as the onerous FDA regulations unveiled the next day, which will shut down thousands of e-cigarette and e-liquid businesses. But it is equally misguided, and the arguments used by its supporters show that the people driving policy in this area are either remarkably clueless or brazenly dishonest. Mark Leno, the state senator who introduced SBX2 5, might be both.

A riddle attributed to Abraham Lincoln asks: If you call a tail a leg, how many legs does a dog have? The answer: Four, because calling a tail a leg does not make it a leg. Likewise, legislators (or bureaucrats empowered by them) can call e-cigarettes "tobacco products," but that does not change the fact that they contain no tobacco and generate no smoke. 

Leno, a Democrat whose district includes San Francisco, has 18 posts on his website that mention e-cigarettes, one of which is titled "E-Cigarettes Are Tobacco Products." Visitors who click on that link in the hope of finding something resembling an argument will be disappointed. The post consists of a photograph showing Leno posing with supporters of his bill next to a placard that says "E-Cigarettes Are Tobacco Products." 

It's true that the nicotine e-cigarettes often are used to deliver is derived from tobacco, but that is also true of the nicotine in smoking cessation aids such as gum, patches, and inhalers, which neither the FDA nor the state of California considers tobacco products. Furthermore, Leno's definition of tobacco product includes nicotine-free e-liquids and the devices that turn them into inhalable aerosols, neither of which have anything to do with tobacco.

The erroneous identification of e-cigarettes with tobacco products is closely tied to the misconception that e-cigarettes are just as dangerous as the conventional, combustible kind. "Whether you get people hooked on e-cigarettes or regular cigarettes, it's nicotine addiction and it kills," Leno told Reuters last year. "We're going to see hundreds of thousands of family members and friends die from e-cigarette use, just like we did from traditional tobacco use."

No one this ill-informed has any business writing legislation that deals with e-cigarettes. Contrary to what Leno seems to think, nicotine addiction is not inherently deadly. What kills smokers is not nicotine; it's the tobacco combustion products they inhale along with nicotine. If nicotine were the cause of smoking-related disease and death, how could the FDA possibly have approved products like Nicorette gum and Nicoderm CQ as safe and effective ways to quit smoking?

E-cigarettes build on the same idea, offering a less hazardous way to consume nicotine—one that is more appealing to many smokers because it more closely resembles their current habit. Although e-cigarettes probably are not quite as safe as the pharmaceutical versions of nicotine replacement, they are close.

"While vaping may not be 100% safe," said a 2015 report from Public Health England, "most of the chemicals causing smoking-related disease are absent and the chemicals which are present pose limited danger. It has been previously estimated that [e-cigarettes] are around 95% safer than smoking. This appears to remain a reasonable estimate."

According to a report published by the Royal College of Physicians last month, even that estimate may exaggerate the risk posed by vaping. "Although it is not possible to quantify the long-term health risks associated with e-cigarettes precisely," the venerable medical society said, "the available data suggest that they are unlikely to exceed 5% of those associated with smoked tobacco products, and may well be substantially lower than this figure."

Yet somehow Mark Leno predicts that the death toll from vaping will be comparable to the death toll from smoking. "The e-cigarette is nothing more than a new delivery system for toxic and addictive nicotine," he declares, seemingly oblivious to the point that the delivery system makes a crucial difference as far as health risks go. "Like traditional cigarettes, e-cigarettes deliver nicotine in a cloud of other toxic chemicals," Leno says, apparently unaware that vaping delivers far fewer toxins at far lower levels.

Leno also asserts, based on even less evidence, that "e-cigarettes pose potentially serious health risks" to "those who inhale secondhand vapors," which is his justification for extending California's smoking restrictions to cover vaping.  To support that contention, Leno turns to Kimberly Amazeen, vice president for public policy and advocacy at the American Lung Association in California, who says "initial studies have found detectable levels of toxic cancer-causing chemicals, such as formaldehyde, benzene, and nitrosamines, coming from secondhand e-cigarette emissions." 

Since it's impossible to find undetectable levels of something, Amazeen's wording is telling. When an alarmist informs you that "detectable levels" of known toxins have been found somewhere, it is safe to surmise that the levels are very, very low, which is generally the case with the aerosol produced by properly operated vaping products.

study published last year in the journal Regulatory Toxicology and Pharmacology analyzed puffs from three flavors of Blue eCigs, which at the time accounted for about 50 percent of the U.S. market, and two flavors of SKYCIGS, which represented around 30 percent of the e-cigarettes sold in the U.K. The researchers compared the output of these products with air samples and with the smoke generated by Marlboro Golds and two varieties of Lambert & Butler cigarettes.

The e-cigarette aerosols consisted mainly of glycerin or propylene glycol (70 percent to 85 percent), water (10 percent to 19 percent), flavoring (3 percent to 11 percent), and nicotine (1 percent to 2 percent). The researchers measured eight kinds of "harmful and potentially harmful constituents" (HPHCs): carbon monoxide, carbonyls, phenolics, volatiles, metals, tobacco-specific nitrosamines, polyaromatic amines, and polyaromatic hydrocarbons. The combined weight of all these in 99 puffs from a Blu Classic Tobacco Disposable (which proved to be typical) was less than 0.17 milligram. That's about the same as the total amount of HPHCs (0.16 milligram) found in 99 puffs of air. By contrast, a single Marlboro Gold generated 30.6 milligrams of HPHCs—180 times as much as the Blu eCig. Per puff, the Marlboro Gold generated 3,357 nanograms of HPHCs—about 2,000 times as much as the Blu eCig.

Results like these led the Royal College of Physicians to conclude that "harm to others from vapour exposure is negligible." Given the enormous differences between tobacco smoke and e-cigarette vapor, it makes no sense to put e-cigarettes in the same category as the tobacco-burning kind, whether your concern is health hazards for vapers or health hazards for people in their vicinity.

Based on that misclassification, California has erased one important advantage of e-cigarettes: the ability to use them in settings where smoking is prohibited. At the margin, the loss of that advantage will deter some people from substituting vaping for smoking, a switch that could have saved their lives. The official equation of e-cigarettes with tobacco products will have a similar effect by sending the message that smokers might as well keep smoking.

Contrary to Leno's wild claims, there is no evidence that e-cigarettes are deadly. He should be more concerned about the lethal effect of his ignorant, self-righteous grandstanding.

This article originally appeared at Forbes.com.

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  1. how does anyone think it’s possible to be mature enough to be drafted yet not mature enough to handle cigarettes?

    1. It amazes me that these nannies have somehow accepted that sex happens before 18, that some sex crimes are not recognized as such younger than 21. No tobacco under 21, no alcohol, no handguns, no conceal carry permits, no medical marijuana, the list gets bigger all the time — yet somehow they haven’t made every horny teenager a criminal yet. It’s almost as if the evolutionary urge to procreate is stronger than bureaucracies in some small way.

    2. Being of draft age does not imply maturity. Actually, it’s quite the opposite. An 18-year-old has just spent his entire life being told what to do and how to do it by parents, relatives, teachers, guidance counselors, his boss at the grocery store, etc. He is primed to take orders from a drill sergeant (much more so than, say, a 30-year old). So the whole “old enough to be drafted but not old enough to drink (or in this case smoke, which is bizarre)” argument is a silly one.

      1. It is hardly silly. A 5 year old fully understands how to follow orders but you wouldn’t give one a machine gun and trust they have the maturity to put them in combat. Giving someone the legal authority to kill at their discretion is an authority you give to adults based on the notion they are mature enough to handle it.

        The argument is valid whether you can see it or not.

        1. The argument IS silly if you understand what’s being argued. Saying an 18-year-old is “mature” because he is ordered to run up a hill and shoot someone does not make him “mature” enough to be able to handle new-found freedoms after an entire life of being guided every day by parents, teachers, coaches, bosses, et al.

          My point is pretty simple: Being “mature” enough to follow orders in the military is not the same as being “mature” enough to take responsibility for decisions and actions when no one is guiding your every move and decision. Your argument about the 5-year-old demonstrates that nicely. Yes, a kindergartner will clean his room, understanding he or she is going to be in trouble if they don’t. Likewise, an 18-year-old will follow orders from a drill sergeant (or teacher, or coach, or boss). But that same 18-year old might not be “mature” enough to handle the new-found freedom of going out till 2 a.m. and drinking a gallon of booze at the bars and understanding the consequences of it (and like I said, many who are older don’t, either).

          No need for a pissing match here. I’m just trying to point out that the age-old claim that “If I’m old enough to die in combat, I’m old enough to ______” is not necessarily logical. Frankly, a 14-year-old is “old enough to fight a war,” too, depending on what you need him for. Would you trust him at the bars? Or driving home afterward?

          1. If I would trust a 14 year old with a machine gun yes I would trust him with a bud light. One is a tad more dangerous than the other. Also you are grossly misstating the larger argument. 18 is the age of majority. It is the age at which we assume people have the faculties required to be a fully responsible adult. It isn’t just the military.

            We let them enter into contracts
            hold them responsible as adults for crimes.
            allow them to purchase firearms
            allow them to get married.

            18 may or may not be the right age but the argument is that 18 is the arbitrary age at which we have decided that you are an adult and fully responsible for yourself. It is fucking retarded to say that applies to everything above including killing people but somehow doesn’t apply to cigarettes.

            And whether you see it or not carrying a weapon into combat is a much more serious endeavor that requires more maturity than any of the things listed above. Being trusted to actually kill other people should require a much higher bar than being trusted to possibly kill yourself.

            1. For the record, I didn’t say a word about cigarettes. I don’t care if someone smokes; I just don’t want to pay for their health problems later.

              My initial response that sparked this discussion was to the OP statement about being “mature enough to be drafted.” What maturity, exactly, does it take to be drafted? No one went to Vietnam because they were “mature enough.” They went because they were 18 and could carry a rifle, and were optimally conditioned to follow orders from authority figures, since they had done exactly that their entire lives up to that point.

              “18 is the age of majority. It is the age at which we assume people have the faculties required to be a fully responsible adult.”

              Then why is the legal drinking age 21? Why do you have to be 21 to gamble in a Vegas casino? Some states don’t allow you buy lottery tickets till you’re 21. It all comes back to the perception of being a little older before being “allowed” to make such decisions, as opposed to having decisions made for you ? shoot that, not that; run this way, not that way; stand at attention, answer me this way, etc.

              As for your claim that draftees have the “legal authority to kill at their discretion.” No such “authority” exists for a soldier to kill whatever he wants, at his discretion. He is ordered to do so, i.e., is told what to do, or asks permission to fire or engage. He generally is not given the freedom (certainly not the “authority”) to make such decisions on his own.

              1. “Then why is the legal drinking age 21? Why do you have to be 21 to gamble in a Vegas casino? Some states don’t allow you buy lottery tickets till you’re 21.”

                Which is exactly my point. We assume you are a legal adult at 18 except when you aren’t. It is pointing out the hypocrisy not to mention basic human rights violations inherent in such a policy. If we said people were no longer allowed to buy lottery tickets or smoke or vote at age 65 because of their age people would flip out yet we do the same thing to other full grown adults at 18. We know people’s faculties decline with age so it wouldn’t really be more of a stretch.

                You shouldn’t be allowed to create laws that discriminate against adults because of their age yet we do exactly that. Drafting someone and putting a rifle in someone’s hand is acknowledging they are an adult which is why the argument is completely relevant and not remotely silly. Adults are adults.

      2. That analogy is bullshit, and usually comes from people who don;t fucking understand the military. As having served in a war zone at age 20, I can tell you that it really does;t work that way. Firstly, being primed to take orders from drill sergeants means nothing as that only lasts through initial training. Once you;re at your regular duty station, that all goes away. Secondly, in wartime, even younger service members may have to make some tough calls under pressure.

        Seriously, it’s just better get the bullshit notion that 18 year olds need coddling out of your head.

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  2. I think I was born a libertarian; but I didn’t know it by name until much later. I’ve always recognized that efficiency comes from choices and that bureaucracies number one goal is to classify and pigeonhole and regulate everything, to keep the paperwork restricted to neat little pre-ordained channels, to freeze the status quo so nothing has to be updated and nothing disruptive can be allowed to exist.

    Much much later I came to the philosophy of self-ownership and realized it was good not only because it was right, but because it eliminated the rationales for bureaucracies — of controlling everything under the sun with paperwork and channels and procedures all established by unknowing uncaring bureaucrats who cared for nothing but tidy ossified rigid order.

    I really Really REALLY hate bureaucrats and everything about them. What really pisses me off, though, is these goddam self-selected elites thinking their rigid bureaucracy can somehow produce a better society by maintaining a fantastical status quo than flexibility and progress. They take for granted all the past progress which created the status quo they are so enamored of, yet cannot see how future generations would also appreciate having the very progress which they are doing their damnedest to stomp out.

    1. “these goddam self-selected elites thinking their rigid bureaucracy can somehow produce a better society by maintaining a fantastical status quo than flexibility and progress.”

      Yes and they have a name for these people. With no sense of irony they call themselves progressives.

  3. Vaping is small business, tobacco is big business. Big business writes the regulations, “lobbies” the legislators, gets the little guys squashed, this is the way of my people. No stupidity or ignorance required. Mark Leno is just doing his job.

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  5. Just follow the money. The “Master Settlement Agreement” made 46 states partners with the large tobacco companies who now have a vested interest in smoking. California, more than any other, spent this money and issued bonds against future revenue which now is not coming in – due in part to vaping. Therefore vaping is bad for you until we figure out how to tax it.

    http://tobaccoanalysis.blogspo…..g.html?m=1

    1. Wow, that’s pretty damning evidence of the collusion between Big Tobacco and government…..all at the government’s instigation, of course. No wonder they are jumping on the vaping bandwagon at the risk of their constituents. Mother fuckers.

  6. Only central committee knows what’s best for you. Its members go to top school like Kennedy School of Government where they are taught how to choose what’s best for all.

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  9. Nothing like uneducated politicians spreading their ignorance through legislature! By the time they get through, we won’t need doctors! The politicians will know it all! They are endangering the youth of this country through their ignorance. I would rather my step-son be vaping than smoking, which is 100 times worse! They want everyone to think they are smart?! They are just the opposite! Their stupidity will end up killing more people, in collusion with their cigarette producing buddies!

  10. “an electronic device that delivers nicotine or other vaporized liquids to the person inhaling from the device.”
    By that definition the nebulizer that delivers medication to some very sever asthmatics is a tobacco product. That is some serious double distilled Weapons Grade Stoopid ?.

  11. “an electronic device that delivers nicotine or other vaporized liquids to the person inhaling from the device.”
    By that definition the nebulizer that delivers medication to some very sever asthmatics is a tobacco product. That is some serious double distilled Weapons Grade Stoopid ?.

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  14. One of the reasons a lot of people started purchasing electronic cigarettes was because they could puff on them INSIDE the bar. If vaping gets banished to the outside everywhere, a lot of those people are just gonna say f*ck it and just go back their trusty Marlboros.

  15. Fuck off slavers.

  16. Well, they* are Morons, so it fits.

    *CA Legislators

  17. Big tobacco wants to keep their customers, and big government wants to keep their tax revenues, so they criminalize advantages that a safer product was enjoying to “level the playing field.”

    This makes me furious, and I’ve never smoked or vaped.

  18. The head of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention made statements similar to Leno’s on NPR about a week ago.

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  20. Jacob: Here’s an idea for an article. Won’t the anti-vaper bigshots be embarrassed if Britain, for example, heads in the opposite direction–and obtains improved health statistics.

    What would really be a kick in the pants would be if China or Russia or Brazil prohibits cigarettes and promotes e-cigs as replacements. I think you should urge them to do so in one of your articles.

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