Tonight, the Beverly Hills City Council is considering an ordinance that would place a moratorium on the sale of electronic cigarettes because of hypothetical health concerns, while allowing the known toxic tobacco cigarettes to continue to be sold. While the ordinance directs the city to study the health effects of electronic cigarettes, there is no similar directive to study the health effects of tobacco cigarettes.
Specifically, the ordinance would place a 45-day moratorium on the sale of electronic cigarettes (stores would be allowed to sell their existing supply for the next two weeks). The ordinance would take effect immediately upon adoption, and the moratorium could be extended for up to 10 1/2 months. The ordinance affects all retail sales of electronic cigarettes in Beverly Hills.
The measure is being considered as an interim urgency ordinance. This is intended to address an urgent situation. The ordinance would go into effect immediately. It does require a four-fifths majority vote of the Council to be adopted.
The Rest of the Story
Can someone help me to understand the rationality of enacting a moratorium on the sale of electronic (i.e., fake) cigarettes while allowing the real ones to remain on the market.
If the Beverly Hills City Council were really interested in protecting the public's health, it would issue an emergency ordinance banning the sale of tobacco cigarettes. After all, cigarette smoke is known to contain more than 10,000 chemicals, including 60 known human carcinogens and smoking kills more than 400,000 Americans each year. In contrast, electronic cigarettes contain only a few chemicals and have not been shown to kill anyone. In fact, other than mild respiratory irritation, there are no known adverse health effects of electronic cigarettes.
So what sense does it make to ban the sale of electronic cigarettes while allowing Beverly Hills residents to continue to buy the real thing? From a public health perspective, this is one of the most inane proposed public policies I have seen in a long time.
To be sure, this policy - if adopted - will result in public health harm. Specifically, it will undoubtedly make it more difficult for many ex-smokers in Beverly Hills to obtain electronic cigarettes and will essentially force them to return to cigarette smoking. Many of the residents who purchase their electronic cigarettes at stores in Beverly Hills undoubtedly use these products to keep them off regular tobacco cigarettes. For these individuals, the removal of e-cigarettes from the market places them at great risk of returning to cigarette smoking. How exactly, then, does this ordinance protect the public's health?
While it is true that more research is necessary to characterize the absolute risk profile of electronic cigarettes, there is no doubt that these products are much safer than tobacco cigarettes. And while there are concerns about quality control issues, the FDA is about to announce (perhaps within days) proposed regulations to help ensure the quality and safety of these products.
The benefits of electronic cigarettes are clear: they help many smokers to quit smoking. They are especially advantageous to smokers who have failed to quit using traditional methods. Taking these products off the market is essentially condemning many smokers to continued smoking by taking away a viable option for them to try to kick the addiction.
In contrast to the known benefits, the risks are - so far - hypothetical. It is possible that these products may serve as a gateway to youth smoking, but there is no evidence that this is occurring and the first published study to examine this question provided evidence that it is not occurring. It is also possible that these products could inhibit smokers from quitting. However, the existing evidence suggests the opposite: that smokers using this product are not people who would otherwise quit smoking. Instead, these products appear to help many smokers quit who were unable to quit using other methods.
I certainly hope that rational minds prevail and that at least 2 of the Beverly Hills City Councilmembers vote against adopting this emergency moratorium against selling a product that is helping many city residents to get off of deadly cigarettes. Banning the sale of electronic cigarettes while allowing the sale of the real ones would set a terrible public health policy precedent.