Tahlequah Daily Press

November 13, 2013

E-cigs: City should slow down and study the issue


TAHLEQUAH — When it comes to the controversial proposal to curtail the use of electronic cigarettes on city-owned property, the Tahlequah City Council should slow down, take a deep collective breath, and do more research.

Since a few days before the Nov. 4 council meeting, calls, texts, emails, and Facebook posts have inundated the Daily Press. A petition has been circulating in advance of the Monday, Nov. 18 special council meeting, when a vote could take place. This is a hot-button issue, possibly the most divisive to go before the council since Jason Nichols was elected mayor. Everyone seems to have a dog in this fight.

Those putting forth the measure may be doing so partially to safeguard the public health, but since the jury’s still out on what effect second-hand “vapor” might have, the pursuit of grant money is more likely the impetus. This is understandable; with slashes to every government-funded budget imaginable, agencies and organizations are grasping at every penny to keep worthy programs intact.

Many smokers have expressed the opinion that if they can do without their nicotine fix to take their kids to a park for a few hours, the “vapers” should be able to do the same. They ask why vapers should get to use their products in public spaces, when tobacco is banned. E-cigarette users have a ready response: There are no known adverse health affects from second-hand vapor, and though nicotine is indeed a drug, it’s far less harmful than the tar and other substances delivered by tobacco. E-cig users naturally object to their product’s being classified with “tobacco,” since it’s nothing of the kind. They also wonder if nicotine patches, or other legal drugs – like caffeine – will soon be on the hit list.

Businesses that sell e-cigarette products understandably want the use of their products to be as widespread as possible. They tout e-cigs as a way to quit smoking, and that appears to be true. On the other hand, Big Tobacco – and those who sell tobacco products – have a vested interest in tamping down the e-cigarette trend, which is why they’re funneling millions of dollars toward that goal.

Next, we have the members of the city’s administration, who may or may not personally favor restrictions on e-cigs, but who feel obligated to listen to presentations from citizen groups. And finally, there are the folks who don’t necessarily partake of e-cigs, but who just don’t want the government curtailing any more of their personal freedoms.

Many suspect the city council and members of the health coalition are deliberately trying to exert more influence over the lives of the public. That claim doesn’t make much sense, because those responsible for passing the ordinance could be jeopardizing their political futures. It must also be noted that individual liberty ends when it encroaches on someone else’s freedom.

The volatility of this ordinance suggests it needs more thought, with an eye toward compromise. Coalition representative Carol Choate has said there’s no rush; if that’s the case, why push it through so quickly?

Officials should take time to study public opinion, and how the use of e-cigarettes affects the community as a whole. While a couple of cities in Oklahoma have put restrictions in place, others have delayed plans for further scrutiny.

The impulse to ban the products in buildings like the courthouse is understandable, but what about on other city property? Are vapers causing problems in city parks? What about sidewalks and streets? Could the ordinance be used at some point to prohibit businesses from allowing vaping on their premises, as some fear? If so, that’s a bad idea: Since the state hasn’t seen fit to take action when it comes to private property, Tahlequah shouldn’t, either. And does it have to be all or nothing? Has anyone discussed having certain spots in parks where vaping is allowed, or would this create an enforcement nightmare?

There are too many questions to take action Nov. 18. Let’s not get the cart before the horse.