Tahlequah Daily Press

November 11, 2013

E-cig regulation: Not about health, but about money

Guest Editorial Writer

TAHLEQUAH — To ban or not to ban: That is the question, isn’t it?

So we all seem to agree that the science against or for e-cigarettes is still in its infancy. At the same time, let us remember that it is not a very complicated system to test.

We are not talking about DNA gene-splicing or something complicated like that. The chemicals used in the e-cig are basic, and it would seem to me that if there was something inherently unhealthy about it, we would have had something definitive by now.

owever, I don’t think it matters, because at the end of the day, I don’t believe government will make its decision based on the science, but as it most often does, on politics.

Why do I say this? Take cigarettes, for example. They are banned from public parks and in most cities, but can any of us really say it is inherently unhealthy to the general public to be in the same park as a smoker? I have asthma and I am greatly bothered by smoke, but I am not bothered by smoke that is 5 feet away from me. Banning smoking in parks is not about a true health concern, but it is more about the politics of smoking in general.

Being for smoking bans right now is good politics. If it were really about clean air and health, we would ban automobiles from around Norris Park, because that, more than smoking, is of greater health consequence than an e-cig. I

 know from personal experience how car exhaust affects me, even being 20 feet away. If it were truly about clean air, we would also require cars to be smogged, and we would ban the burning of trash and not allow people to use fireplaces.

Pollution from industry and automobiles harms more people than smoking, and especially the dry vapor of an e-cig. That is an undeniable fact. However, it is easier for government to use a minority of smokers to be the scapegoat of unhealthy living than to attack an entire state of drivers, coal producers, and fire-burning residents. Well, at least for now, it is.

Here is another fact to consider. If the ban goes into effect and the city gets its certification and money, can we honestly say we are a cleaner and healthier city, all of sudden?

Does Tahlequah, in one day, have rays of sunshine fall upon it from above, and all the cases of COPD, emphysema, asthma, et al, suddenly go away or decrease? No, this would be a silly notion to accept.

Banning vapor-producing e-cigs from our public parks will not help one smoker quit the habit and will not prevent a new person from becoming a smoker, but instead will just make it harder for current smokers to quit.

This certification may make many politicians, and those involved in SWAT, feel good about themselves because they are true believers of their cause and believe they must ban smoking and things that resemble smoking at all levels, despite the logic and science against their belief.

This ban will not help current smokers at all; it will just offend them all, and it will in some part harm them as well. This ordinance is more about city marketing, propaganda, and of course, money.

We also heard last week that we should err on the side of caution. How about taking a more logical approach and not err at all? I can understand the concern about indoor use of the e-cig, but I surely don’t accept or understand the banning of it at our outdoor city facilities, like our parks.

That is illogical when you consider all the other sources of pollution present in our city. Vapor from the e-cig is the least of them.

The other concern put forth was about children watching adults using these e-cigs at our parks and the chance of their being enticed into using them. This thinking also has flaws in logic, because those same adults will be using the devices with their own kids at home.

Those same adults will be “vaping” as they walk the sidewalks near the park, outside of grocery stores etc. Unless we allow the health police to ban it altogether in the public sphere, children will continue to see people smoke and “vape” both in life and on TV. What is the solution to this perceived problem? Good parenting, not bans.

The strange thing about this specific ban being proposed is that this is the first time I can think of that a local government is considering banning a legal product that is attempting to solve a public ill and has been shown to be successful at it.

Smoking and its unhealthy side effects is a huge cost and burden upon our society, and we have smart people apart from government funding coming up with real solutions. Why, oh why. are we talking about banning a product that is actually helping people quit this habit? That makes no logical sense.

“Hey. mom, what is that guy puffing out of his mouth?” “Son, that is a person trying to quit the nasty habit of smoking.”

People, there is tunnel vision going on in this debate. E-cigs are about helping people quit a bad habit. I have not heard anyone on either side of this debate dispute this fact. Why then are we talking about banning a positive tool in that fight? It brings us back to money, politics and propaganda.

At least, that is how it appears to me, but I am open to correction on this.

I don’t believe this issue really is about the science or lack thereof, but it is really about what is best for our citizens and what they want. Do our citizens want a ban? Would this ban help our citizens?

This is what I would be considering if I were mayor or on the city council. But I am not, so the ball is in our elected leaders’ court to decide.

You have heard the opposition loud and clear, and it was overwhelming against the ban. Now it is for our leaders to decide. I do thank our mayor for being the un-mayor in these matters and being open to this dialogue and debate in such a public way. I am impressed by his openness.

Al Soto is a Tahlequah businessman.