E-Cigarette Users Need Love, Too
E-Cigarette Users Need Love, Too

by Clarence Page

As a recovering nicotine addict, the rising tide of local bans against puffing in public on electronic cigarettes makes me wonder what the lawmakers have been smoking.

By an overwhelming 45-4, Chicago's City Council has voted to follow New York, Los Angeles and other cities that have passed or are considering limits on e-cigarettes that banish their use in restaurants, bars and most other indoor public places.

Retailers also are required to sell e-cigarettes from behind the counter so it's harder for minors, among others, to get their hands on them.

E-cigarettes are battery-powered fake cigarettes. They contain no tobacco, require no combustion and, after exhaustive health studies, appear to cause no physical harm -- compared to real cigarettes, at least.

You can't even call their use "smoking." Some users call it "vaping" for the vapor the devices create by heating up a liquified nicotine mix. When puffed and exhaled, the white misty vapor resembles smoke -- like your breath on a cold day.

By duplicating the rituals of smoking, the devices are designed to help wean users off the nasty habit.

I understand how that works. Although I am too cheap to buy an e-cig and the nicotine patch didn't work for me, I alternate between a non-electric nicotine inhaler prescribed by my doctor and nicotine chewing gum.

Unfortunately, I must confess, I am still addicted to nicotine. Don't worry about it, says my doctor, echoing other health experts. Even if the research is still inconclusive on the health risks of nicotine substitutes, anything is better than falling back into the grip of tobacco.

So what's the problem? Kids.

It is easy to see how protecting impressionable youths from the lethal lure of demon tobacco, which captures 90 percent of smokers as teens, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, is a cause that is tough for politicians to resist, even when the dangers of e-cigs is not entirely clear or present.

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel took up former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg's crusade against tobacco and other potential health hazards, including e-cigarettes, even if they only look like a health hazard.

How far, Emanuel nobly asked, are elected officials willing to go to protect children from addiction? Well, gee, when you put it that way, what politician is not going switch immediately into better-safe-than-sorry mode?

Since 2009, when the first e-cigarette bills were introduced, 25 states, the District of Columbia and numerous municipalities, including the Chicago suburb of Evanston, have passed measures defining and regulating them.

All of those states restrict sales of e-cigarettes to minors and most require identification for both in-person and online transactions.

Fine. I am completely in favor of keeping these devices out of the hands of underage users. Our young people have more than enough dangerous temptations around them as it is.

The percentage of middle and high school students who said they had ever used e-cigarettes once more than doubled from 2011 to 2012, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Many are lured undoubtedly by the most important factor in most teens' lives, being "cool" with their friends. Although it's not clear how e-cigs might be a gateway drug to harder stuff, like real cigarettes, the mere possibility is a legitimate cause for concern.

Nevertheless, I ask, how does it protect kids to ban the use of e-cigs in bars, for example, where minors already are prohibited?

What next? Will government come after my nicotine gum and non-electronic inhaler, too? If not, will e-cigarette "vapers" claim unlawful discrimination under the Constitution's equal-protection clause?

By then President Barack Obama might want to join the pushback. He vowed to quit smoking in 2007, passed a sweeping anti-smoking bill in 2009 and more recently has been seen chewing nicotine gum. Some of us feel your pain, Mr. President.




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E-Cigarette Users Need Love, Too