Pubdate: Thu, 10 Mar 2016
Source: SF Weekly (CA)
Column: Chem Tales
Copyright: 2016 Village Voice Media
Author: Chris Roberts


It is the age of the vape. On our streets and in (some) of our 
buildings, bros and girls of all ages are pulling on 
propylene-glycol-powered tubes, and in Washington, clouds of vapor 
are replacing the proverbial smoke-filled room. Last month, U.S. Rep. 
Duncan Hunter (R-San Diego), a 39-year-old ex-military man, vaped on 
the floor of the House during a debate over banning e-cigarettes on planes.

He lost his rhetorical point, and e-cigs were added to the list of 
banned devices on flights. Shortly thereafter, the e-cig vote 
appeared: Signs boldly proclaiming "I Vape I Vote" appeared at Donald 
Trump rallies in Texas. A few weeks later, on Feb. 24, Hunter became 
the first House member to endorse Trump.

Clouds of soon-to-be illicit vapor could very well fill any venue 
Trump visits in California between now and the June primary. 
Following the lead of lawmakers in San Francisco - which classified 
e-cigarettes as tobacco products in 2014, effectively banning them in 
many public places - state legislators approved a ban of nicotine 
vaporizers at work, school, and public places (all places where, 
under the state Smoke Free Act, tobacco is already verboten).

Gov. Jerry Brown is expected to sign the new restrictions, authored 
by state Sen. Mark Leno (D-San Francisco) into law. When he does, it 
will lead to an odd situation: United States Marines under 21 
stationed at Camp Pendleton will be forbidden from drinking alcohol 
or smoking cigarettes. And forget about a post-firing range vape.

For most of us, tobacco has rightly been seen as a menace to public 
health all our lives. (Or, at least, cigarettes have been. Most 
commercial cigarettes don't contain tobacco leaf, but rather shredded 
paper sprayed with tobacco oil and hundreds of chemicals - a product 
called "reconstituted tobacco," according to reporting from PBS.) But 
is vaporized nicotine really as bad?

Federal public health watchdogs at the Food and Drug Administration 
still aren't sure, noting that e-cigarettes have yet to be fully 
studied. (The FDA may soon regulate all e-cigarettes, but for now it 
deals only with e-cigarettes that deliver a therapeutic benefit, 
according to the agency.) Still, lawmakers are pushing forward, 
touting recent findings by the California Department of Health that 
e-cigarette vapor contains 10 known toxins as well as the fact that 
vapor flavors like bubblegum appeal to youth.

This could also have an impact on California marijuana users. Leno's 
bill includes a clause that reads, "This act does not affect any laws 
or regulations regarding medical cannabis." In the past, Leno's 
staffers have told SF Weekly this is proof-positive the e-cig bills 
won't touch cannabis. However, as Dale Gieringer, the executive 
director of the California chapter of the National Organization for 
the Reform of Marijuana Laws points out, there are no laws or 
regulations regarding the vaping of medical cannabis, save for a few 
local ordinances. (And at least under San Francisco city law, smoking 
anything -including marijuana - is officially banned in public parks.)

"It's really hard to distinguish cannabis and nicotine e-cigs, so I 
expect that both will now be equally ostracized in politically 
correct, eco-sensitive localities in California," Gieringer says.

He also points out another motivation behind the rush to define 
e-cigarettes as tobacco: money. Tobacco taxes once generated as much 
as $650 million in annual state tax revenue. Now, the tax generates 
less than $350 million a year, a victim of anti-smoking laws' 
success. Classifying e-cigarettes as tobacco products means they will 
be taxed like tobacco products, keeping this fund - which goes to 
preschool programs as well as health initiatives - alive.

This is, on its face, irrational. An e-cigarette is not tobacco oil 
mixed with chemicals sprayed onto paper, no more than a cartridge of 
cannabis oil high in CBD is a cigarette. And yet all three are now 
tied with the same red tape.

In August, a landmark report found e-cigarettes to be 95 percent less 
harmful than cigarettes - and also found no evidence that 
e-cigarettes lead children or nonsmokers to start puffing on Marlboro 
Reds after a few pulls on the vape. That would upend much of the 
reason behind the new push to regulate e-cigarettes - but that study 
was conducted by Public Health England, and despite ringing 
endorsements from public health officials and cancer researchers 
urging smokers to start vaping, it does not appear to have much 
traction among American lawmakers.

"Unfortunately," Gieringer adds, "our own nanny-state health 
officials are no more honest about e-cigs than they are about marijuana."

It's unpopular and foolish to defend tobacco. But it's also dishonest 
to say an e-cigarette is the exact same thing as a cigarette. And 
most unfortunately, it's this kind of tax-minded rush to judgment 
that fuels Trump supporters' mistrust of government. If you catch a 
whiff of bubblegum at a Trump victory party, you know who to blame.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom