E-cigarettes: no smoke without ire

I’ve long been a decorative smoker. One daily roll up hasn’t imperilled my health much, and it’s rescued me from the ranks of the self righteous. I’ve relished the dash of badness, but my indulgence has come at a price complicity. My more heavily addicted husband has smoked from the age of 19. So long as I join him in the odd postprandial drag, I’m a bad influence.

Last month I switched to an e cig. I’m a convert. Sleek, black, and easily confused with a fine point felt tip, this newfangled «nicotine delivery system» is dead cool. The gently warm vapour ingeniously replicates the reflective pause of a real fag, the same quiet little buzz. But it doesn’t stink up your breath, cover surfaces with ash, turn the air acrid, stain your fingers, brown your teeth, reduce bone mass of the jaw, promote gum disease, or wait for the drum roll cause cancer. Nor does an e cig give anyone in your vicinity cancer.

Why, then, are so many nonsmokers queasy, nay denunciatory, about electronic fags? Why did the EU’s tobacco product directive released last month propose effectively banning any e cigs that deliver remotely enough nicotine to make them an attractive alternative to tobacco? Isn’t a «tobacco product directive» reaching beyond its remit by seeking to regulate a product containing no tobacco? Why is the sale of a device that administers a mild stimulant about as energising as a cup of coffee already illegal in Denmark, Belgium and Norway? Why do some airlines specifically ban e cigs, which don’t foul the air on planes?

Socially, the battery powered fag seems to inspire anything from curiosity to annoyance as well as contempt in some proper smokers, who consider the counterfeit ciggie cowardly and naff. Fine, call most of us cowardly for being afraid of cancer. What I cannot sanction is the annoyance.

Web forums teem with sniffy disgust towards anyone who substitutes one addiction for another though there’s no evidence that addiction to nicotine, in the absence of the tar and chemical additives of commercial tobacco, is any more damaging than addiction to caffeine. With e cigs, it seems you haven’t «really quit», even if you’ve really quit tobacco, the very substance that sheepish smokers yearn to eschew. In desperation, rabid anti smokers deride e cigs as stupid looking and pathetic. Apparently we’re in danger of «renormalising smoking» after having lavished endless initiatives on making smoking socially unacceptable among all but a sad, quivering few.

Nonsense. If electronic cigarettes became a socially acceptable norm, lung cancer and emphysema rates would plummet. The trouble is that smokers have been demonised medically and morally not merely bad for public health, but bad, full stop. E cigs neatly separate the rational, research backed concern for the health consequences of tobacco from a purely cultural revulsion for a «filthy» habit marking you as evil.

For anti smoking fanatics, e cigs must be enraging. They can’t clamber on to that handsome high horse, because what’s to get upset about? Those plastic vapour sticks aren’t gunking anyone’s lungs or even stinking up the drapes. And those dreadful cheats seem to be enjoying themselves! They’re getting away with something horrid scot free! It isn’t fair! They should get cancer! Imagine the dizzy swoon of indignation deprivation what’s upsetting is there’s nothing to get upset about.

The EU situation is more unsettling still. The pharmaceutical industry profits from popular but far less effective methods for quitting tobacco such as patches and gums, and spends more than 40m a year lobbying the EU. In the UK in 2011, nicotine replacement therapies were worth 117m in turnover, largely due to NHS freebies. It’s in Big Pharma’s interest to quash the e cig, now that 7% of Europeans have tried one and in 2013 they are expected to attract more than a million Britons.

Keep an eye on the UK, whose politicians talk righteously, but whose coffers benefit from a whopping 9bn annually in tobacco taxes, dwarfing the 2.7bn smokers cost the NHS each year. (Yet because smokers die seven to 10 years younger, and place little demand on the service once dead, smoking may actually save the NHS money.) If all British smokers switched to e cigs overnight, the Treasury would be traumatised. The government will never admit to banning e cigs because it needs the taxes it rakes in from you killing yourself, but watch this space.

You want real evil? What’s truly evil is attempting to deny people addicted to a profoundly damaging substance the opportunity to transfer that addiction to a product most medical professionals rate as 99% harmless. The gathering European opposition to electronic cigarettes is the result of kneejerk cultural prejudice, puritanical vindictiveness, corporate collusion, and the unconscionable greed of tax authorities that won’t be able to heap the same punitive, confiscatory, opportunistic duties on a product that doesn’t hurt anyone.

Sure, there’s a sacrifice in leaving real tobacco behind for a mere simulacrum. You miss dancing on the dark side the risk, that hint of wickedness. But since your detractors can’t have kittens any more, you get something in return glee.

Colleges consider whether e-cigarettes are covered by bans on smoking

As the use of electronic cigarettes grows, colleges are trying to determine whether the products fall under their tobacco free policies, many of which were adopted before the new form of smoking took off.

The University of Iowa became a smoke free campus after a 2008 state law prohibited smoking in public places. At the time, e cigarettes battery powered devices not monitored by the Food and Drug Administration that provide doses of nicotine and other additives were not on the university s radar. Now, university groups, including the Faculty Senate, are discussing whether e cigarettes should be included in the ban.

It s hard for university groups to come to an agreement, university spokesman Tom Moore said. Some faculty and staff members believe e cigarettes are unhealthy and would be a distraction in classrooms others are wary of adding e cigarettes to the ban until further research on the devices takes place.

«There are many more questions than answers at this stage,» Moore said, adding the university does not have a timeline for making a decision.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has said e cigarettes prompt «great concern» because not much is understood about their long term effects. A CDC study found the percentage of American middle and high school students who use e cigarettes more than doubled from 2011 to 2012. More than 1.78 million such students had tried e cigarettes.

If Iowa decides to forbid e cigarettes, it would join a growing number of college campuses that have enacted similar bans. Because e cigarettes are becoming well known, colleges and that have recently created tobacco use policies are more likely to include e cigarettes, said Clifford Douglas, director at the University of Michigan Tobacco Research Network. Of the 1,178 campuses that enacted smoke free policies as of July 2013, 793 are tobacco free, according to the Americans for NonSmokers Rights Foundation. Many of the tobacco free policies explicitly bar e cigarettes.

Ohio State University set a «major precedent» in banning e cigarettes as part of its tobacco free policy, which launches in January 2014, Douglas said. The Ohio State policy prohibits all tobacco products, including cigarettes, electronic cigarettes, cigars and cigarillos, hookah smoked products, pipes, oral tobacco and nasal tobacco, as well as any product «intended to mimic tobacco products, contain tobacco flavoring or deliver nicotine other than for the purpose of cessation,» according to the policy.

More colleges and universities are moving toward smoke free, or even tobacco free, environments. Only three colleges in Maine were tobacco free at the beginning of 2013, said Sarah Mayberry, program director at the Maine Tobacco Free College Network. By the fall, 10 of the 34 institutions of higher education in Maine had adopted tobacco free policies, Mayberry said.

The organization advises colleges to ban e cigarettes because they send a mixed message that smoking is allowed on campus.

E cigarettes, which have been marketed as cessation devices, are «clearly less hazardous» than regular cigarettes, Douglas said. But those who use e cigarettes to curb their smoking are probably not doing as much good for their body as they may believe, he said.

Some colleges and universities, including the University of Michigan, have responded to concerns about e cigarettes without fully banning the product. The University of Michigan s smoke free policy took effect before e cigarettes became popular and the university recently banned e cigarettes in its health complex, Douglas said. The devices are still permitted on other parts of campus, he said.

Still, others are waiting for more conclusive research on e cigarettes before deciding whether to ban them. When Northeastern University formulated its smoke free policy, it decided not to ban e cigarettes, said Terry Fulmer, dean of the Bouve College of Health Sciences and chair of the university s smoke free committee. There is not yet evidence that e cigarette use is harmful to the general public as is secondhand smoke from regular cigarettes, she said, and the university wanted to focus on smoking as a public health issue. The policy went into effect this August and could evolve in the future, she said.

Administrators at Pima Community College in Arizona have submitted a revamped smoking policy to its board that would restrict smoking, e cigarette use and tobacco use to designated on campus areas so nonsmokers could avoid secondhand smoke, said the college spokesman, C.J. Karamargin. The current policy does not mention tobacco use or e cigarettes.

The industry group for e cigarettes, perhaps not surprisingly, argues that there is no reason to ban them. Smoke free or tobacco free policies are often adopted because «it s the thing to do» and are loosely enforced, said Gregory Conley, legislative director at the Consumer Advocates for Smoke Free Alternatives Association. Without research on the risks of e cigarette use on bystanders, campuswide bans makes little sense, he said.


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