Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Illinois Legislature to Consider Bill to Ban Electronic Cigarettes

An Illinois state Senator has introduced legislation that would ban the sale of electronic cigarettes in Illinois. Senator Mattie Hunter (D-Chicago) is sponsoring Senate Bill 3174, which makes it illegal to sell or distribute electronic cigarettes in Illinois.

According to Senator Hunter: "Electronic cigarettes have not been approved by the FDA and we don’t know what is in them or if they are safe. Until these types of products are deemed certified or legal to sell by the FDA, they should be banned throughout Illinois."

The Rest of the Story

Actually, 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 Senator Hunter is sponsoring legislation that if enacted would be devastating to the health of the people of Illinois. 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 was sponsored by the Vice-Chair of the legislature's Public Health Committee suggests that she 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 Senator Hunter and her colleagues in the Illinois legislature take the time to research and inform themselves about this issue before they vote on this bill.

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