In a recent article from TIME, we once again see the debate about e-cigarette regulation. However, this article isn’t just your typical e-cig news piece. While most of the articles we encounter call for more regulation, this particular story was completely different. Instead, it took a closer look at what the unintended consequences might be if e-cigarettes are regulated.
Everyone expects electronic cigarettes to face new regulations in 2014. While federal regulations are still undecided, many states are taking matters into their own hands and creating bans on the electronic smoking products, prohibiting e-cigs from all public places. A few locations have gone so far as to subject e-cigs to the same high sin taxes that make tobacco cigarettes so expensive. However, the logic behind these laws is flawed at its core. States are banning e-cigs on the assumption that they are the same as tobacco cigarettes. However, that just isn’t the case.
Policy makers will undoubtedly have an uphill battle with each new e-cig ban they pursue. E-cigarette manufacturers argue that treating e-cigs as tobacco products is irrational and it could have dire consequences for public health as many smokers might keep using tobacco if there are no practical advantages to e-cigs.
Miguel Martin spoke to TIME about the potential problems with regulations. As president of LOGIC Technology, an e-cig manufacturer in New Jersey, Martin has a lot of first hand experience with e-cigarettes. “I’m looking forward to federal regulation. But each state doing its own thing in absence of a federal framework, I think is a mistake,” he said.
Just take a look at the headlines and you will see that cities and states are constantly debating the merits of e-cigarettes. In New York City, Chicago, and Los Angeles, e-cigarettes are already strictly regulated. The products are banned in all public places in Utah, North Dakota, and New Jersey. Minnesota has gone so far as to tax electronic cigarettes at 95 percent of the wholesale price. Other states have tried to tax e-cigs without success. Those who support e-cig bans argue that the vapor couple be harmful to bystanders. They also insist that allowing e-cigs will make smoking look attractive again and remove the stigma that has caused tobacco use to decline.
Despite ongoing local debate about e-cigarettes, the FDA is yet to make a decision on how it will classify and regulate the products. Even after a decision is reached, it could take months before regulations are really settled and implemented. In the mean time, it is up to individual states and cities to determine how to handle the smokeless cigarettes.
Martin said he feared that new state taxes on vaping gear would drive more people to buy e-cigs online. If that’s the case, ID’s aren’t easily verified and it opens the door to easier access for minors to buy electronic cigarettes. “There’s a knee jerk reaction to tax. It has cigarette in the name, ‘I don’t now what the thing is; let’s treat it like a cigarette.’ What if science turns out to show that there’s a health benefit to using e-cigarettes over cigarettes and you have a financial disincentive to use them?” he said.
NJOY’s CEO Craig Weiss agreed with Martin’s sentiments. “If you make it just as inconvenient to smoke an electronic cigarette as a Marlboro, people are going to keep smoking Marlboros. Is that really the unintended consequence they want? To keep them smoking? Because that is what they are doing and we know the consequence of that is people are going to die a painful and early death.”
Other advocates of regulation disagree with Martin and Weiss, insisting that regulation is necessary to protect public health. Stanton Glantz, professor at the University of California San Francisco insists that e-cig vapor emits harmful particles into the air, even if they are much less than what is found in secondhand smoke. Contrary to the remarks of Glantz, recent research has proven that e-cig vapor does not present any real risks or threat to public health.
For those states and cities that do continue to push against e-cigarettes, they are likely to face a lot of opposition along the way. “If states get this wrong, if they (incorrectly) tax electronic cigarettes, you are going to see a lot of litigation from e-cigarette companies,” said Christian Berkey, CEO of John Creek in Wisconsin. Johnson Creek is the largest product of e-liquid in the Unites States. Berkey went on to tell TIME that e-cigarettes have not caused any proven health problems that would justify a sin tax like cigarettes face.
As more regulations and taxes are considered for e-cigs, we are likely to see grassroots protesters take a stand. For some individuals in the public health community, e-cigs are a battle worth fighting because they have already offered smokers a safe alternative to their previous tobacco use. In Hawaii, around 1000 protestors showed up to fight against the proposed e-cig tax and they were successful in stopping the legislation. A similar battle is happening in New York City these days with e-cig fans puffing on their e-cigarettes in City Hall to make a point during the hearing.
Ultimately, regulating e-cigarettes could have some very negative consequences, even if that is not the intention. Amy Fairchild and James Colgrove said it best in a recent op-ed in the New York Times: “If e-cigarettes can reduce, even slight, the blight of six million tobacco-related deaths a year, trying to force them out of sight is counterproductive.”
What consequences do you expect if e-cigarettes face new regulations?