Monday, May 14, 2012

Cohasset May Ban Vaping in Public Places to Protect Kids from Seeing People Trying to Quit Smoking

The Cohasset (MA) Board of Health is considering regulations to ban vaping (use of electronic cigarettes) in public places that are subject to no-smoking rules.

According to an article in the Boston Globe: "In an interview, Dr. Michael Siegel, a tobacco control specialist at Boston University School of Public Health, ...had concerns about lumping electronic cigarettes with other tobacco products when regulating public smoking because “there’s no scientific evidence that the exhaled vapor poses any health hazard to bystanders.” The battery-operated devices, which were introduced in China in 2003, look like cigarettes but produce nicotine-laced vapors that are usually far less potent than the real thing. Studies have shown the e-cigarettes are effective in helping smokers kick the habit, Siegel said. While Lawrence [a Board of Health member] acknowledged that the health effect of e-cigarettes was unclear, he said their similarity to cigarettes was unsettling. 'From my perspective, using [them] models a child to a smoking behavior that can be easily turned into the real deal,' he said. 'I may be out on the fringe, but my responsibility is to look out for the health of the citizens in the town where I live.'"

The Rest of the Story

It appears that the Cohasset Board of Health wants to outlaw vaping in public places because they don't want children to see people using electronic cigarettes. In other words, they don't want children to see people trying to quit smoking.

Apparently, the Board of Health seems to misunderstand the most basic fact about electronic cigarettes: these products are being used primarily by smokers who want to quit smoking or cut down substantially in order to protect their health. Why would this be something that we wouldn't want children to see?

In fact, it might be that if children were to see how many smokers want to quit, it would actually decrease their perceptions of the glamor of smoking.

While opponents of vaping in public argue that it may lead children to start smoking, I think the opposite may be true. Such a view is, I believe, very short-sighted. While it may be true that if a child sees, for the first time, someone use an electronic cigarette, the child may be confused and think it is a real cigarette. But surely, over time, children will come to recognize electronic cigarettes and to understand that they are being used by smokers who are trying to quit because they are concerned about the health effects of smoking. This will help to de-glamorize smoking by teaching children that many smokers are unhappy that they started smoking and now want to quit. This could actually serve as an anti-smoking, rather than a pro-smoking phenomenon.

The second major argument against banning vaping in public places is that there is no evidence that exhaled electronic cigarette vapor is hazardous to bystanders. I believe that it undermines the justification for banning smoking in public places if health boards and city councils ban a behavior for which there is no evidence of harm. The reason why I believe workplace smoking bans are justified is that there is solid scientific evidence that secondhand smoke exposure is a significant health hazard for nonsmoking employees. If health boards start to ban behaviors without evidence of health hazards, then it undermines the seriousness of their responsibility to regulate behaviors for which there is evidence of health harm to others.

The article also noted that the Cohasset Board of Health is considering banning the sale of tobacco products in pharmacies because it "would do anything to reduce the amount of tobacco products being used." The problem is that banning the sale of tobacco in pharmacies will not reduce tobacco use. It will simply shift the sale of tobacco away from pharmacies and towards other types of stores, such as gas stations and convenience stores.

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