Wednesday, August 07, 2013

Canton, Massachusetts Considering Complete Ban on Electronic Cigarettes: Why Protect the Most Hazardous Tobacco Products and Ban the Fake Ones?

This coming Monday, the Canton (MA) Board of Health will consider a proposed regulation that would completely ban the sale of electronic cigarettes in the town. Unlike ordinances considered by several other cities and states that would ban the sale of electronic cigarettes to minors, this one bans the sale of electronic cigarettes altogether, even to adult smokers. If enacted, Canton would become the first city in the United States to ban the sale of electronic cigarettes.

The proposed regulation states: "All non-medical use nicotine delivery products including, but not limited to electronic cigarettes and smokeless tobacco, as defined in this regulation are prohibited from sale, without exception, in the Town of Canton."

The regulation would apparently ban the sale of not only electronic cigarettes, but also dissolvable tobacco products and snus. It also appears, by my reading, to ban the sale of all other smokeless tobacco products.  

The Rest of the Story

Why would the town of Canton want to protect the sales of the most hazardous type of tobacco product on the market - cigarettes - but ban the sale of a product (electronic cigarettes) that literally hundreds of thousands of people across the country are using in order to quit smoking and is the safest available nicotine-containing non-medical product on the market?

This makes no public health sense.

Thousands of smokers have successfully quit smoking using electronic cigarettes and many more thousands have substantially cut down on the amount that they smoke. Moreover, there is no evidence that these products have become popular among youth or nonsmokers. Thus, the availability of these products is leading to substantial health improvement on a population basis without any observable downside.

Why would any board of "health" want to put an end to this?

The only entities that will be protected by this regulation are the tobacco industry, which will benefit because smokers who might otherwise have quit will continue smoking, and the pharmaceutical industry, which will benefit because smokers who might have used electronic cigarettes to quit will be forced to continue spending their money on smoking cessation drugs that are largely ineffective.

The real effect of this regulation would be to protect the conventional cigarette market from competition. And unfortunately, that competition is currently in the form of truly reduced risk products: electronic cigarettes.

Does the Canton Board of Health want to stand as the most vigorous protector of the current market of conventional cigarettes that one could ever imagine? Do they want to stand as protectors, rather than opponents, of the death and disease caused by the nation's most hazardous consumer product?

I am confident that the answer is no and I am therefore confident that once the full Board discusses the proposed regulation, it will reconsider and scrap the idea of banning electronic cigarettes. 

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