Sunday, March 21, 2010

Maryland Bill Would Severely Harm the Public's Health by Forcing Many Ex-Smokers to Return to Cigarette Smoking

Would Also Criminalize Individuals Who Give Electronic Cigarettes to Friends or Relatives to Help Them Quit Smoking

Bill Acknowledges that Deadly Analog Cigarettes are Approved by the FDA, and that State Lawmakers Would Rather People Smoke the Deadly Ones than the Much Safer Electronic Ones

The Maryland legislature is considering a bill which would ban the sale and distribution of electronic cigarettes. House Bill 720 makes it a crime (a misdemeanor) to sell someone or give someone an electronic cigarette.

The bill is intended to protect children from taking up vaping.

Specifically, the bill bans any nicotine-delivering product which is not approved by the FDA.

The Rest of the Story

Electronic cigarettes have been extensively studied in the laboratory and we have a pretty good idea of what is in them. While we don't know if they are absolutely safe, we do know that they are likely much safer than regular cigarettes.

Laboratory testing has revealed that electronic cigarettes contain mainly propylene glycol, glycerin, and nicotine. There are traces of other chemicals, none of which has been implicated as a health hazard at the concentrations present in the electronic cigarette (with the one exception of diethylene glycol, but that was only found in one e-cigarette brand and many other brands tested have been shown to be free of diethylene glycol).

We do know that electronic cigarettes contain only traces of carcinogens. In fact, the level of carcinogens in these products are comparable to levels present in nicotine replacement products like nicotine gum and the nicotine patch. Importantly, the concentration of carcinogens in electronic cigarettes is orders of magnitude lower than in regular cigarettes.

We also know that many smokers have found electronic cigarettes to be highly effective in helping them to quit smoking and to stay off cigarettes. There are literally thousands of people who would almost certainly return to regular cigarette smoking if electronic cigarettes were taken off the market.

The rest of the story, then, is that House Bill 720, if enacted, would be devastating to the health of the people of Maryland. It would force many ex-smokers in the state to return to cigarette smoking. Thus, it would cause substantial public health harm.

Electronic cigarettes appear to be a much more effective tool for quitting smoking than traditional nicotine replacement therapy. And they certainly appear to be a much safer alternative to cigarettes for smokers who are unable to stop using nicotine products completely.

To take electronic cigarettes off the market is to deny smokers a much safer alternative that is likely saving lives and improving the public health. That such a bill is being considered as a public health measure suggests that the Maryland legislature simply has not taken the time to properly study the issue of electronic cigarettes.

With all of the facts in hand, I don't see how any legislator who is truly interested in protecting the public's health and saving lives could possibly support legislation to take e-cigs off the market, forcing ex-smokers to return to the much more toxic analog cigarettes. Let's hope that the Maryland legislators take the time to research and inform themselves about this issue before they vote on this bill.

There are two other interesting aspects of this story that deserve note.

First, the legislation makes it clear that in the eyes of the Maryland legislature, the FDA has approved real cigarettes for sale and marketing in the United States. After all, we can assume that House Bill 720 is not intended to ban the sale of cigarettes. However, the bill bans the sale of all nicotine-delivering products that are not FDA-approved. Since cigarettes are a nicotine-delivering product, they would be banned by this bill if not FDA approved.

Unfortunately, the sad but true fact is that thanks to our friends at the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids and other national anti-smoking groups, analog cigarettes are indeed FDA-approved.

The irony of this whole situation is that the Maryland legislature wants people to smoke the real, FDA-approved cigarettes in lieu of the much safer electronic ones, which have been shown to deliver up to 1400 times less carcinogens.

Why would a public policy maker in Maryland prefer that smokers die than that they quit smoking by using a device which is orders of magnitude safer than the FDA-approved cigarettes?

There are only 3 reasons I can think of:

1. They want to protect the sale of cigarettes, and the profits of the tobacco companies, in Maryland.

2. They want to protect the profits of the pharmaceutical companies which manufacture nicotine replacement products which help only a very small percentage of smokers quit smoking.

3. They are uninformed about the health issues regarding analog cigarettes compared to electronic cigarettes and therefore have no real idea what they are doing, but are blindly following the misguided advice of the anti-smoking groups.

A second additional aspect of this story that deserves attention is that if House Bill 720 is enacted, it will be a crime for an individual to give a friend or relative an electronic cigarette to help them quit smoking.

Frankly, giving the gift of an electronic cigarette to a friend or relative who is a smoker who has had trouble quitting via other means is one of the most compassionate things a person can do. To make that person a criminal makes no sense at all.

Supporters of the legislation say it is needed to protect kids from taking up vaping. But the bill goes far beyond such a purpose. If that were the true purpose, then the bill should simply ban the sale or distribution of electronic cigarettes to persons under the age of 18. That would be a very reasonable measure to help ensure that young people do not get their hands on these products. However, the bill goes far beyond this by banning electronic cigarettes entirely in Maryland.

Despite the fact that there is absolutely no evidence that electronic cigarettes are popular among youths or that youths will be willing to spend the $60 to $120 necessary to obtain a starter kit, it is still reasonable to ensure that the products cannot be sold or distributed to minors. But it is not necessary to ban the sale of electronic cigarettes outright to achieve this purpose.

If legislators in Maryland are truly interested in protecting the public's health, they will take action to ensure that the ex-smokers who quit smoking via use of electronic cigarettes will continue to have access to these products and will not have to return to the highly toxic real ones.

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