The Star Tribune editorial “Take safe course on little-studied e-cigs” (March 30) unfairly criticizes Gov. Mark Dayton’s position on legislation that would regulate electronic cigarettes.
The Star Tribune Editorial Board clearly lacks an in-depth understanding of electronic cigarettes and, like many anti-tobacco advocates, would prefer to regulate these new non-tobacco products like regular cigarettes. This kind of thinking would result in a public health disservice to those smokers who are seeking to transition to using electronic cigarettes.
The legislation in question is pending in both the House and the Senate. The House removed a proposed ban on e-cigarettes in public places and left in provisions prohibiting e-cigarette sales to minors, mandating annual compliance checks on retailers, requiring retailers be licensed to sell e-cigarettes and setting penalties for violating the law. The tobacco wholesale and retail trade associations that I represent support these other regulations to prevent the sale of e-cigarettes to minors.
The Senate version contains these same provisions, but also bans the use of e-cigarettes in public places such as restaurants, bars, taverns and bowling alleys.
E-cigarettes deliver nicotine to the user and may look like cigarettes, but that is where the similarities end. The newspaper editors overlook what the public health community has known for decades, namely, that the burning of tobacco in a regular cigarette and the resulting chemical toxins pose the real health risks to a smoker.
With an e-cigarette, a liquid containing nicotine is heated, creating a vapor that is inhaled. There is no burning of tobacco and, contrary to testimony by the health commissioner during legislative hearings, an e-cigarette poses far fewer health implications than a traditional cigarette.
The editorial also misstates the ingredients in the e-cigarette liquid. Generally, the liquid contains nicotine, about one-fifth the concentration found in a regular cigarette. Propylene glycol is an ingredient that can be vaporized and has been found safe by the FDA for use as a food preservative and in some pharmaceutical applications, including asthma inhalers.
Glycerin is an ingredient that is a liquid sugar alcohol compound also used in pharmaceutical products. Menthol flavoring may be an ingredient in e-cigarette liquid. None of these ingredients is classified as a carcinogen by the FDA, nor do any of them cause cancer.
The editorial goes on to claim that Dayton and those opposing the ban on the use of e-cigarettes “have not done the basic homework needed for informed policymaking.” In fact, the opposite is true, and I have educated legislators in my testimony during hearings on this legislation.
There are recent studies, including a major study published last fall by the Drexel University School of Public Health, that found there is no evidence that using e-cigarettes “produces inhalable exposures to contaminants that would warrant health concerns” and that exposure of bystanders to the exhaled vapor “pose[s] no apparent concern.” A copy of this important study has been provided to House and Senate committees that have held hearings on the e-cigarette bills.
Moreover, the FDA has drafted proposed, uniform national regulations on e-cigarettes, and these are being reviewed by the White House Office of Management and Budget. They should be released for public review and comment soon. In addition, the FDA has created 14 tobacco research centers, which will conduct further studies on e-cigarettes to ensure that the science is right in order to enact the proper regulations on e-cigarettes.
While the editors may be bothered by the use of e-cigarettes, most Americans are not. A recent study conducted by Harris Interactive shows that nearly two-thirds of those surveyed would “not be bothered” by someone smoking an e-cig in close proximity to them. This is vastly different from the opinion of Americans on the use of regular cigarettes in public places.
Most important, the editorial fails to recognize that enacting the Senate bill and applying the current ban on smoking cigarettes to e-cigarettes will cause adult smokers to erroneously believe that e-cigarettes are essentially the same as regular cigarettes. That perception would act as a disincentive for adults to transition to using e-cigarettes, which do not produce the harmful, carcinogenic compounds found in cigarette smoke.
Dayton should be supported for his reasonable approach to regulating e-cigarettes.
Thomas Briant is executive director and legal counsel for the Minnesota Wholesale Marketers Association and the National Association of Tobacco Outlets.