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E-Cigarettes: Should Smoking Bans Apply to Them?

Electronic Cigarette Smoking

Electronic Cigarette Smoking (Photo credit: planetc1)

Has someone smoking in a place they shouldn’t be made you do a double take recently? Maybe it was the man lighting up at the bar or a coworker or even a fellow fan at the basketball game? It seems people are smoking anywhere again, only now they’re puffing on electronic cigarettes. Before we’ve had a chance to determine the health effects of e-cigarettes, their use has become pervasive, even among our kids, leading many to question if the same smoking bans on conventional cigarettes should apply to them?

The Cigarette You Can “Smoke Anywhere!”

As USA Today recently reported, some electronic cigarette companies boast that their product can be used anywhere. Relegated to the physical periphery of social gatherings for the last twenty years or so, smokers clearly found this sales point appealing. The Tobacco Vapor Electronic Cigarette Association reports that e-cigarette makers have captured 10% to 14% of the 44 million tobacco users in the U.S.

The agency with the authority to regulate e-cigarettes, the FDA, has yet to do so.

Are E-Cigarettes Harmful to Your Health?

At present, too few studies have been conducted for the scientific community to form a consensus on the health effects of e-cigarettes. A battery-operated device that delivers nicotine-, propylene glycol-, and glycerin-laden vapors to its user, e-cigarettes lack the poisonous tars and carbon monoxide found in tobacco-burning cigarettes. While nicotine has long been used in gums and patches to help smokers quit and the FDA generally regards glycerin as safe, the effects when these chemicals are burned and inhaled are unknown. The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health lists propylene glycol as an inhalant risk. Volatile compounds, such as formaldehyde, have also been detected in the vapor of e-cigarettes, reported the Los Angeles Times.

Should Smoking Bans Apply to Them?

Given how little we know about the health effects of e-cigarettes, a stronger argument for banning them in the workplace and in many public spaces is that, through their pervasiveness, they threaten to make smoking appear socially acceptable again. For kids and teens who have not yet been as exposed to anti-smoking campaigns, and who haven’t witnessed the bad habit’s expulsion from just about everywhere, and who are notoriously impressionable, seeing e-cigarettes in widespread use could signal not only social acceptance but also popularity. Already, the Centers for Disease Control reported that e-cigarette use is rising among middle and high school students.

That our kids could be turned onto this product, which could still turn out to be dangerous or lead them to trying the real thing, is reason enough to ban it, a move many cities, including Los Angeles, are already considering.

What do you think? Should smoking bans apply to e-cigarettes?

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