Pubdate: Thu, 12 Mar 2015
Source: SF Weekly (CA)
Column: ChemTales
Copyright: 2015 Village Voice Media
Author: Chris Roberts

SF Hasn't Waited for Science to Declare War Against E-Cigarettes and 


The way people smoke is changing. More accurately, "smoking" is 
disappearing entirely as e-cigarettes and vaping steadily take over 
for both tobacco and marijuana users. And of course, a San Francisco 
firm is "at the front" of this culture disruption, as The New Yorker 
wrote last year.

With a combination of distinctive design and idiot-proof ease of use, 
the Pax - sleek, dark, handheld, and identifiable by a signature "X" 
of LED lights - has become the iPhone of vaporizers. At $250, Alabama 
Street-headquartered Ploom has managed to sell "well over a 
half-million" units, company founder James Monsees told me as we sat 
in a smokeless conference room that smelled faintly of wintergreen 
pipe tobacco. This is enough success to justify a follow-up model 
(the "Pax 2," announced earlier this week) as well as a rebranding of 
the company (from Ploom to PAX, after its signature product).

Other companies are playing catch-up on a playing field that's about 
to get stricter. Alarmed by vapes' appeal to adolescents and by a 
near total lack of regulations, a growing number of public health 
advocates and politicians are pushing for tough rules on vapes and 
e-cigarettes. And of course, San Francisco is leading the way on 
restrictions, too.

Ads that juxtapose a young black man puffing on a vape with a 
cigaratte-smoking Marlboro Man accompanying the declaration that 
e-cigarettes are "harmful, like cigarettes" - a message paid for by 
the city's Department of Public Health - started appearing on Muni 
vehicles and in BART stations earlier this year. Momentum for this 
crusade started last year, when the city's Board of Supervisors 
passed laws that regulate e-cigarettes the same way tobacco is regulated.

This means anywhere in San Francisco that a cigarette is not allowed, 
e-cigs or vapes are also not allowed. The entire state could soon 
follow suit: Last month, state Sen. Mark Leno introduced a bill that 
would do the same on the state level and add e-cigarettes and vapes 
to California's definition of "tobacco products." San Francisco's 
other representatives in Sacramento, Assemblymen David Chiu and Phil 
Ting, have signed on as co-sponsors.

This is all happening with typical Twitter-age speed, which means 
regulations are preceding the research.

It's hard to make informed decisions without appropriate data, and 
there is almost no data on exactly what health hazards e-cigarettes 
and vaporizers pose. "[C]onsumers currently don't know" if they're 
good or bad, according to the Food and Drug Administration. "Only a 
few studies have directly investigated the health effects of exposure 
to e-cigarette aerosol," researchers from UCSF wrote in a 2013 report 
prepared for the World Health Organization. But despite this stated 
ignorance, this same report is being used as the factual basis for 
lawmakers to regulate e-cigarettes just like cigarettes. Based mostly 
on possible appeal to adolescents, the California Department of 
Public Health went even further, declaring e-cigarettes "a public 
health threat" in a January report.

Science may eventually catch up to policy. By then, the e-cigarette 
and vape regulations - which have the full endorsement of the 
antismoking establishment (the American Lung Association and American 
Heart Association are co-sposnors) as well as the state's influential 
law enforcement lobby - will likely be in effect.

Marijuana users also have a stake in this fight, according to 
California NORML executive director Dale Gieringer. In a formal 
opposition letter to Leno, Gieringer notes that the expanded 
definition of a "tobacco product" - "an electronic device that 
delivers nicotine or other substances to the person" - absolutely 
includes any vaporizer used to consume cannabis, like the Pax. Thus, 
a bill that bans e-cigarette and vaporizer use in a host of places, 
including "many private rental units and all places of employment," 
means banning cannabis vaping there, too.

Leno's office contends that the bill doesn't touch medical marijuana 
use at all since current state law already bans cannabis smoking 
where tobacco smoking is prohibited. Further, enforcement of this 
law, if passed, is likely to be complaint-driven, meaning that 
nothing will happen unless someone makes a fuss. But that's not 
Gierigner's main beef.

"This sends the message that e-cigarettes are just as dangerous as 
smoking. It makes no distinction between vaporizer users and 
cigarette users," he said. "It says that vaporizers and e-cigarette 
users have to be in smoking areas - which is ridiculous. Most of 
these people don't want to be in smoking areas - they don't want to 
be smoking! That's why they're vaporizing."

There's plenty of precedent in state law for two different, but 
similar things to be regulated identically. Think automobiles and 
bicycles. These devices serve similar purposes in vastly different 
ways, all under identical statutes of the California Vehicle Code.

But what's really driving the push to regulate e-cigarettes ahead of 
the research may not be science or health, but money. Treating 
e-cigarettes like tobacco means e-cigarettes can be taxed like 
tobacco. The state currently levies a tax rate of almost 30 percent 
on tobacco. That's big money, but big money that's slowly getting 
smaller: Revenue from the state's tobacco tax dipped to $900 million 
last year from $1.2 billion in 2000, a trend that's destined to 
continue as tobacco smoking is further marginalized. Adding a 
fast-growing industry to the definition of tobacco means saving that 
revenue stream - which would be disbursed to many of the same labor, 
public health, and law enforcement groups behind Leno's legislation.

There's probably something unhealthy about e-cigarettes. There's 
something unhealthy about almost everything we do. Surely nobody can 
say with a straight face that puffing a Pax is identical to lunging a 
Marlboro. But that's exactly what lawmakers are saying, with San 
Francisco at the front.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom