Before the Oregon Legislature adjourns in July, state legislators should ensure that they ban the sale of vapor products, commonly referred to as electronic cigarettes, to minors.
At the present time, 41 states responsibly do just that. Oregons legislators would be remiss, however, in following suit by passing House Bill 2546 and Senate Bill 340. As written, these bills stand to do far more harm than good for both public health and small businesses in Oregon.
Regrettably, the sponsors have attached provisions to their bills that also would prohibit the vaping of smoke-free and tobacco-free vapor products in every area in Oregon where smoking is not permitted. This is a classic case of government officials creating a solution to a problem that does not exist. Such restrictions are simply not justified by the evidence.
Vapor products are battery-operated devices that heat a nicotine-containing or nicotine-free liquid to create a vapor that contains none of the tar or carbon monoxide that makes cigarette smoke so hazardous. Laboratory tests repeatedly have shown that the chemicals present in exhaled vapor are at trace levels which are not harmful to bystanders.
Since their introduction in the United States in 2006, the use of vapor products by adult smokers looking to quit has grown substantially. Indeed, recent studies in Minnesota and Oklahoma found that vaping is now the most frequently used quit-smoking tool in those states. The same is likely true in Oregon.
Just three states New Jersey, Utah and North Dakota have prohibited vaping wherever smoking is banned. State lawmakers and federal regulators have recognized that vaping is an important public health issue that should not be acted on hastily. Instead of taking steps that could have unintended consequences, many policymakers are studying this issue carefully and letting the scientific evidence grow.
The central reason Oregon and other states have enacted public smoking bans was to combat the harm caused by secondhand smoke. Increasingly, anti-vaping activists are ignoring this and arguing that the public use of a smoke-free product will somehow renormalize the smoking of actual cigarettes.
This is absurd. There is absolutely no evidence that e-cigarette use is serving as a gateway to smoking. In fact, evidence to date suggests that the gateway is swinging in the reverse direction: The federal governments Monitoring the Future study found that while past month vaping by youth has increased, past month and daily smoking by teens experienced record declines from 2013 to 2014.
Derek Yach, who previously headed tobacco control for the World Health Organization, came out against prohibitive vapor policies last month. We need clear, unambiguous messages to smokers about the safety and benefits of e-cigs, he wrote in the Spectator. Yachs comments echo the sentiments of a growing number of public health professionals from around the world who have realized the potential that vapor products save and improve the lives of tens of millions of smokers.
Public health advocates should be deeply concerned that emerging scientific surveys are showing that a significant number of adult smokers falsely believe that vaping is as hazardous as smoking. Oregon legislators should not take any action that codifies the false belief that the risks associated with vaping (for both users and bystanders) are in any way similar to smoking. Equating cigarette smoking with vaping is reckless and will only serve to further discourage adult smokers from using a vastly less harmful alternative.
The sponsors have thus far rejected attempts to amend their bills to at least make reasonable exemptions for adult-only facilities like vape shops, vaping conventions and bars. Such allowances would at least partially stifle the negative impact of these bills on small businesses and smokers looking to quit. Plus, if preventing youth from seeing adults vaping in public is a primary goal of the bills sponsors, exempting adult-only areas would not impede that.
Last year, the Oregon Legislature had the opportunity to pass a bill by Rep. Andy Olson (R-Albany) that would have prohibited the sale of vapor product to minors. Instead, just like this year, children were used as political pawns to push for a competing bill that also would have prohibited vaping where smoking is banned. In the end, no bill passed. Despite stated concerns about youth access, sales to minors were left legal in order to pursue an agenda aimed at limiting adult use.
The Oregon Legislature should not allow this to happen again. Those who oppose vaping are free to make their case, but they should not do so by holding hostage an otherwise clean, popular and common-sense youth access proposal.
We urge leaders in both chambers to push for passage of HB 2918 and SB 797, both of which would ban sales of vapor products to minors without also enacting unnecessary usage prohibitions.
Gregory Conley is the president of the American Vaping Association, a nonprofit organization based in Hoboken N.J. that advocates for small– andmedium-size businesses in the vapor product and electronic cigarette market.
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