This weekend, Americans for Nonsmokers' Rights (ANR) apparently adopted a new position in which it is now advocating for bans on electronic cigarette use in public places. It adopted new model ordinance language which includes e-cigarettes in smoking bans and it is encouraging smoke-free advocates to use this language in future ordinances.
ANR writes to alert its constituents as follows: "We want to alert the field that the "Electronic Cigarette Association" (ECA) is lobbying against the Marion County/Indianapolis smokefree bill. The fast growing electronic cigarette industry is trying to be sure that its products will circumvent smokefree workplace and public place laws. The Indianapolis bill would strengthen the city's law to include bars and also add electronic cigarettes to the definition of smoking. Just to clarify, this isn't saying that people can't use these products, but rather - that electronic cigarettes should be treated like traditional cigarettes and should not be used indoors or in any way that may put others at risk. While the e-cigarette industry claims their products are "safe", the health risks are still unknown -- both to the smoker and those around them."
The Rest of the Story
ANR's decision to promote a ban on electronic cigarette use in public is troubling because it means that anti-smoking groups will now admittedly be lobbying for bans on a public behavior without any evidence that such behavior is harmful to the public. This represents a significant shift from ANR's support for workplace smoking bans, where there is evidence of harm to the public. With vaping, there is no existing evidence that the "secondhand vapor" poses any harm to non-users. Nor has any potentially harmful exposure been identified or even speculated. ANR readily admits that there is no evidence of any hazards from "secondhand vaping."
Thus, ANR is now promoting bans on public vaping without any evidence that vaping poses any hazard to the public.
In my view, this undermines the tobacco control movement's efforts to promote smoke-free policies because we can no longer argue that our policies are backed up by scientific evidence which shows that these policies are necessary to protect people from well-recognized hazards.
In addition, we now give opponents of smoke-free laws strong ammunition to use against us. They can rightly argue that we are simply trying to get rid of even the "act" of smoking in public, even when there is no demonstrable evidence of harm to nonsmokers.
I see it as a terrible precedent to start lobbying for laws when we are not actually sure that the law is necessary to protect the public from any hazard. If you are going to interfere with the autonomy of business owners, you ought to have a pretty strong reason to do so. In my mind, that means actual evidence that the exposure is a significant hazard. Mere speculation that there might be a hazard -- without any specific evidence to support that speculation -- is not sufficient, I believe, to justify these types of bans.
One anti-smoking group - Smokefree Pennsylvania - under the leadership of Bill Godshall, has been working to try to educate groups like ANR about the scientific facts. Unfortunately, Godshall's advice was not heeded and the result is the group's support for a policy that promotes a ban on vaping in public with no evidence of any harmful effect of such behavior.
As Godshall has argued, we in tobacco control should be trying to do everything we can to help smokers quit. Thus, we should be embracing electronic cigarettes rather than putting obstacles in the way of people using this product. The best way to reduce secondhand smoke exposure is to reduce cigarette smoking. Encouraging smokers to quit is the best thing we can do to reduce secondhand smoke, and the use of e-cigarettes to quit smoking seems to be a very effective and popular strategy.
The rest of the story is that through this new position, it appears that what we are opposing is not the imposition of health risks on innocent bystanders but instead, the "act" of a person going through smoking-like motions in public, even if that behavior has not been shown to affect bystanders.