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In Maine, state lawmakers expanded existing bans on tobacco use in private and public spaces to include e-cigarettes. Many cities and states are likewise considering banning e-cigarette use in public and private spaces, and state governments in Delaware and New York have already banned using e-cigarettes in restaurants and other privately owned spaces.
In Washington, D.C., lawmakers have added a 67 percent excise “sin” tax on e-cigarettes, by redefining tobacco-free e-cigarettes as “tobacco products.”
Despite the claim that restricting e-cigs is in the interest of public health, these laws actually decrease public health and reduce people’s freedoms.
Laws and regulations treating different things as if they were the same are illogical, but e-cigarette bans aren’t simply exercises in theory. In his 1914 acceptance speech, U.S. President Calvin Coolidge said, “Ultimately, property rights and personal rights are the same thing. The one cannot be preserved if the other be violated.”
By enacting government regulations to ban e-cigarette use in privately owned places such as patio spaces at restaurants, governments infringe on business owners’ property rights. The fact that these “one-size-fits-all” policies are not based on science only compounds the error.
Despite fleeting superficial similarities, cigarettes and e-cigarettes are very different things. Whereas cigarette smoke contains by-products of burning tobacco leaves, such as burnt particulate matter and gases such as carbon monoxide, e-cigarette “smoke” is mostly harmless water vapor.
According to Dr. Michael Siegel, a professor at the Boston University School of Public Health, “There is no solid scientific evidence to document that vaping poses any substantial public health risk for bystanders.”
In fact, e-cigarettes aren’t just harmless, they’re actually beneficial for smokers.
Studies have shown e-cigarettes to be more effective tobacco-cessation tools than other, government-sanctioned products, such as nicotine patches. A 2014 study by a team of health behavior researchers at University College London examined the cessation success rates of e-cigarette users compared to patch users, finding e-cigarettes to be almost twice as effective as patches at helping people quit.
“Respondents who reported having used an e-cigarette in their most recent quit attempt were more likely to report still not smoking than those who used [nicotine replacement therapy] bought over-the-counter or nothing,” the researchers wrote. “This difference remained after adjusting for time since the quit attempt started, year of the survey, age, gender, social grade, abrupt versus gradual quitting, prior quit attempts in the same year and a measure of nicotine dependence.”
By making e-cigs more expensive and restricting where they can be used, lawmakers — using public health rationales that are not actually based on science — are actually discouraging self-improvement.
Whatever the ostensible reasons for e-cig bans and taxes, lawmakers considering these e-cig regulations should take a step back and reconsider their rush to make it more difficult for people to wean themselves off nicotine and improve their health.