Public health officials in the nation’s three largest cities are currently weighing plans to ban the smoking of electronic cigarettes, known as “vaping.” The move is being advocated by some health officials who say the vapors emitted by e-cigarettes can cause harm to others and that e-smoking serves as a gateway activity, especially young people, ultimately leading to more smoking, not less.
Elected officials in New York City, Los Angeles and Chicago are all debating measures that would extend the existing non-smoking bans to include the use of electronic cigarettes. Should the cities pass such measures, they would join a long list of other states and municipalities that have banned e-cigarette usage in smoke-free venues. North Dakota, New Jersey and Utah have already passed state-wide bans as well as more than 100 cities across the country, including Boston, Seattle and Indianapolis.
Though many people agree that e-cigarettes are less harmful than traditional cigarettes, which kill more than 400,000 people in the U.S. each year, there is no consensus yet that the e-cigarettes are actually safe. Groups like the American Lung Association and the CDC point out that less harmful is not good enough and that secondhand vapor is still a pollutant. Additionally, e-cigarettes function as a Trojan horse to get around smoking bans, something that the groups argue will lead to more people becoming addicted to nicotine.
Experts note that most e-cigarette devices are made in China and manufactured without oversight from American regulatory agencies such as the Food and Drug Administration. Though the main ingredients in the e-cigarette “juice” are water and glycerin, many also contain carcinogenic substances such as nitrosamines, which are used in antifreeze and are toxic to humans. A study published just last week in the journal Nicotine and Tobacco Research found that while e-cigarettes don’t emit substantial amounts of toxic compounds or carbon monoxide, they do emit some, more than many people are willing to tolerate.
Should the measures pass they will represent a serious and costly blow to the tobacco industry, which has come to increasingly believe e-cigarettes may be the industry’s savior. In fact, nearly every major cigarette manufacturer has either introduced or is preparing to launch their own e-cigarette brands, devices that they are marketing as safer alternatives to cigarettes. In fact, some of the largest brands have even begun airing television commercials; something the traditional cigarette industry has been legally prohibited from doing for nearly four decades.
With so many questions waiting to be answered, it’s clear that more research needs to be done about the risks posed by electronic cigarettes. In the mean time, experts say that it would be wise to err on the side of caution.