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Local view: Basic regulation isn't overreach for nicotine

The Duluth City Council is considering a number of forward-thinking ordinances that would regulate the sale and use of electronic cigarettes. There are a number of reasons why we should be concerned about these new products and why we should pay ...

The Duluth City Council is considering a number of forward-thinking ordinances that would regulate the sale and use of electronic cigarettes. There are a number of reasons why we should be concerned about these new products and why we should pay attention to how these ordinances would benefit our community.

First, e-cigarettes are not regulated. No guarantees come with the products on the market; it is not clear the quality standards used or where the liquids come from, and ingredient ratios are highly variable. In fact, China manufactures many e-cigarettes and distributes them to the U.S.; yet that country has banned the sale and marketing of them to its own citizens. Raise a red flag?

E-cigarettes also are not approved for smoking cessation. There are many options, including similar nicotine inhalers, that are proven to help people treat their addiction. Switching to e-cigarettes is not quitting. Are people reducing their tobacco use? Yes. Will e-cigarettes turn out to be safer than traditional cigarettes? It's possible; research is trying to catch up with these new products, and long-term consequences aren't understood overnight.

Tobacco is one of the most harmful substances known; that is a pretty low bar to which to compare things. What else is safer than tobacco, which caused 440,000 deaths in 2011? Texting and driving is safer with 3,300 deaths. Not wearing helmets on motorcycles is safer with 4,500 deaths. Even alcohol-related crashes killed fewer people -- 10,200 -- than tobacco use. Like the arguments brought by e-cigarette advocates, these behaviors cause less harm than tobacco use. However, we as a community aren't promoting or enabling them.

Allowing e-cigarette use -- "vaping" -- indoors normalizes the behavior and undermines current smoke-free air laws.

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E-cigarette advocates argue that by allowing vaping inside local businesses, people will become less confused about e-cigs. Do we really want this to become our community's new normal? The public health community knows that healthy defaults work. Creating environments in which the healthy choice is the easy one empowers individuals to improve their health. It would be a shame to create a community in which continued nicotine addiction is enabled, youth are exposed to unhealthy behavior, and newly quit smokers are subjected to visual triggers that can result in relapse.

Failure to regulate e-cigarettes is a win for the tobacco industry, not for Duluth. Tobacco companies like Lorillard, RJ Reynolds and Phillip Morris have purchased or are launching e-cig brands. They know these products aren't helping the majority of smokers address their addiction to nicotine. If that were true they would eventually lose their entire customer base. The tobacco industry spent $1 million per hour in 2011 to promote its products. The industry knows advertising is effective and expects to spend millions on e-cigarette advertising this year.

The final concern I will mention is that new e-cigarette designs are very attractive to young people, causing them to possibly initiate on these products rather than traditional tobacco. E-cigarette companies advertise free starter kits, hundreds of flavors and customizable devices. One new product, Innokin's iTaste134, is being referred to as a vaping weapon: It is made of gun-grade stainless steel and is advertised alongside and with references to automatic weapons. These devices quickly are becoming trendy, cool and sexy accessories, not just a harmless tool helping people reduce their tobacco use.

It's not unreasonable to ask that e-cigs be taken outside, at least until there is enough evidence to prove they don't emit harmful chemicals and don't influence youth to begin using them. Let's support efforts to make Duluth a healthy place to be; hold sellers of e-cigarettes accountable by requiring licensure like all other retailers of age-restricted items and uphold the integrity of Duluth's smoke-free air laws.

Allise Wuorio of Duluth is a student in the University of Minnesota School of Public Health and works as a program manager for the American Lung Association in Minnesota.

Related Topics: HEALTH
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