Wisconsin has been the epicenter of several contentious political debates over the years, but now there is a new controversy that is brewing and it has everything to do with electronic cigarettes. Republican representative Joel Kleefisch is the lead sponsor for a bill that would keep local governments from banning the use of electronic cigarettes indoors. To be clear, this is not an attempt to overturn a law but to keep a law from ever coming into existence.
The desire among some in the capitol is to add either a new tax to electronic cigarettes or to classify them as regular tobacco. Further, many representatives are also seeking a full and complete ban on using ecigs indoors. This would treat the electronic cigarettes as regular tobacco cigarettes. Some communities, such as Madison, have already banned indoor vaping, but Kleefisch is seeking to give the vaping community more freedom.
While many are seeking to reclassify the electronic cigarettes as tobacco products, advocates argue that this is simply unfair. Electronic cigarettes are nothing like traditional cigarettes. They have no tobacco, they produce zero ash, they emit zero smoke, and they do not utilize any flame. Ecigs are completely different from analog cigarettes in all but one area – nicotine.
Kleefisch has stated, “I do not believe it is government’s place to tell a private business owner they may not allow a legal activity in their establishment. What e-cig users exhale is not smoke – it’s vapor.”
There are however several individuals and groups that disagree vehemently with the representative. Several health care groups, such as the American Heart Association have offered this opinion on the matter.
“This legislation is premature and potentially dangerous. There is little known about the health effects and long-term consequences of electronic cigarette both on users and bystanders.”
League lobbyist Curt Witynski said, “Wisconsin cities and villages are granted extensive home rule powers to govern themselves without state interference. The league often opposes legislation preempting municipal police power authority.”
Democrat Debra Kolste, also a state representative, believes that e-cigs are dangerous and that they need to be banned indoors and also classified as tobacco. She said, “Allowing e-cigarettes in businesses undermines the very purpose of the smoking ban. Allowing people to use e-cigarettes in smoke-free ventures directly contradicts Wisconsin’s efforts to create healthier indoor environments for workers and patrons.”
Kolste added that electronic cigarettes contain high levels of zinc, nickel, and even lead. She says these chemicals are harmful to the user and the public as well. However, renowned cardiologist Konstantinos Farsalinos, who has researched and written extensively about the use of electronic cigarettes, has refuted these claims on multiple occasions.
It would appear that the main reason lawmakers are waging war on ecigs boils down to money. Cash flow is important to politicians and the cigarette tax is already the 4th largest area of tax funding for the general budget in Wisconsin. Over the past two years the revenue from cigarette tax has fallen nearly 30 million dollars and lawmakers are feeling the hit to the budget.
Rather than celebrating the steady decline of smoking in Wisconsin, the lawmakers are choosing to fight back against ecigs. What will it take for politicians to be more concerned about public health than tax revenue?