There are a lot of rumors out there about e-cigarettes. They are white sticks, they emit what looks like smoke, and people hold them like their papery peers. Faced with these visible similarities, many lawmakers are out to shun e-cigarettes from polite society, much as traditional cigarettes have been banned from parks, restaurants, public spaces, and sometimes even peoples’ homes.
In the process, government health nannies are accomplishing the perverse goal of squashing what may be the most successful smoking-reduction product of the last 15 years.
The regulatory push, predominantly led by those who claim to base their political views on science, has little science to support it. More importantly, many studies show that e-cigarettes help smokers quit, while the water vapor they exhale has been shown, at least in one study, to contain ten times less nicotine that tobacco smoke.
Yet Minnesota state representative Phyllis Kahn of the Democratic-Farmer-Labor party has proposed a law that would restrict the usage of e-cigarettes throughout the state in the same way that cigarettes are restricted. Democratic lawmakers on Capitol Hill also want to treat e-cigarettes the same was as cigarettes by banning e-cigarettes in the Capitol, legislative office buildings, and within 25 feet of the entrances of any of those buildings. Southern Illinois University Edwardsville recently banned e-cigarettes from all campus buildings. The list goes on and on.
“Policy makers should not make policy on the junk science of ‘if it looks like a duck and quacks like a duck, it must be a duck,’” Craig Weiss, CEO of the e-cigarette company NJOY, tells National Review Online. “We believe, in general, that our policy makers should be making policy decisions based on science and data, not on conjecture.”
Weiss, who became the CEO of NJOY in 2011, has seen the popularity of his product skyrocket. In 2006, when he first became involved in the company, NJOY calculated yearly sales by tens of thousands of reusable e-cigarettes. Now it calculates sales by tens of millions.
Currently, e-cigarettes are in a gray area of regulation. The Food and Drug Administration has neither studied the product nor issued consumer guidelines on the use and potential risks of the product. “The FDA has announced its intention to assert jurisdiction over electronic cigarettes many times,” Weiss says, which would be the first step to begin a possible several-year-long process of creating, drafting, and reviewing consumer guidelines. “They first announced their intention to assert jurisdiction in early 2011, and have kept putting up new times they will assert jurisdiction since then.”
In the absence of FDA guidelines and regulations, city councils, state legislatures, and even federal lawmakers have been proposing and passing more localized restrictions on e-cigarettes.
“Our view is that we support reasonable, balanced regulation,” Weiss says. “I support ingredient disclosure, good manufacturing practices, age restrictions, and what I would call ‘reasonable regulation on advertising,’ meaning, for example, no using cartoon characters or advertising on Cartoon Network on Saturday mornings.”
In the absence of these regulations, Weiss tells me that NJOY currently polices itself, having established such measures as age verification in online sales, disclosing ingredients on its website, and supporting local laws banning sales to minors.
However, some proposed and instituted legislation goes far beyond what Weiss thinks is necessary. A case example is the indoor e-cigarette ban proposed on Capitol Hill.
“Banning cigarettes indoors was based on solid scientific evidence that second-hand smoke causes harm,” Weiss says. “There is no science that establishes that the vapor emitted from electronic cigarettes causes harm to bystanders or to the person who is using the product directly.”
“In the absence of that scientific evidence,” he adds, “it is, in my view, improper to make regulations that treat a product like an electronic cigarette the same as a tobacco cigarette which is a known toxic product.”
So far, studies have found that electronic cigarettes can actually help smokers quit or reduce the amount they smoke. One study published in the American Journal of Health and Behavior looked only at smokers aged 18 to 65 who were not interested in quitting smoking. By using e-cigarettes, 89 percent of the participants reduced the number of cigarettes they smoked a day by an average of 39 percent. Sixteen percent of subject reduced their cigarette consumption to zero by the end of the study.
The study’s authors wrote that “several studies and clinical trials have shown that ENDS [electronic cigarettes] can reduce nicotine cravings and withdrawal symptoms and may be useful as an aid for smoking reduction or cessation.”
There is no evidence that e-cigarettes are even nearly as harmful as cigarettes, and there is ample evidence to support that claim that e-cigarettes help smokers quit the habit. Which is why Weiss questions lawmakers who want to limit e-cigarette usage so broadly.
“Here you have an incredible situation where private enterprise took on something that seemed like an intractable problem and developed a product with enormous potential,” Weiss says. “But if you make it just as inconvenient for smokers to use an alternative to their cigarette as it is to use their cigarette, they are just going to keep smoking their cigarettes, and that is not in the best interest of public health.”
With more and more smokers using e-cigarettes, Weiss tells me that NJOY’s mission is “to make cigarettes obsolete.” With a product that appeals to smokers and also helps smokers quit, NJOY could help to do that, if only the government would get out of the way.
— Alec Torres is a William F. Buckley Fellow at the National Review Institute.