Should E-Cigarettes Be Included in No-Smoking Bans?

Cities and states are starting to approve bans on vaping in public places, such as bars and restaurants.

The battle lines are being drawn between people who think e-cigarettes are safe to use in public places and those who think they should be prohibited. Getty Images

At one point in history, smoking cigarettes was permitted almost anywhere. Outdoors and indoors, from offices to hospitals, it didn’t matter, especially on television.

It took decades — after the objective and uncompensated medical community was settled on the science that secondhand smoke was as harmful as firsthand smoke — to ban the use of traditional combustible tobacco products in many public places.

Then came electronic cigarettes (e-cigarettes), more commonly known now among teenagers as “juuling,” the branded form of ingesting vaporized nicotine solutions in a variety of flavors. They’re marketed as a way for smokers to quit cigarettes without quitting nicotine.

Now, this “safer” form of smoking is being banned even quicker than traditional cigarettes, mainly because advocates are lumping them in with existing laws.

It’s yet another example of regulation that’s attempting to keep pace with new technology, and one that advocates of the bans say protect the health of others.

Opponents of the bans, particularly those funded by e-cigarette manufacturers, say the bans are going too far. 

Regulating the e-cigarette

The modern e-cigarette was invented in 2003 by Chinese pharmacist Hon Lik.

For more than a decade before “No E-Cigarettes” signs hung next to “No Smoking” ones, users were puffing away on their glowing-end devices in places where traditional smoking had been banned, including restaurants, workplaces, airports, and even hospitals. 

As e-cigs and vaping had a technological workaround for the traditional smoking bans, more countries, states, cities, counties, and municipalities have passed bans on using any type of inhaled nicotine delivery system. Among the latest is Decatur, Alabama. 

Last week the city’s council voted to ban the use of e-cigarettes in nearly all businesses in the city of fewer than 56,000 people. E-cigarettes are now subject to the same restrictions as the city’s 2007 ban that applied to cigarettes and cigars.

Decatur joined hundreds of other cities that put e-cigarettes in the same category as traditional smoked tobacco products, at least in terms of where people can and can’t use them. 

Florida voters recently passed an amendment to its constitution that bans vaping indoors under other clean air provisions. It became the 10th state to pass such a prohibition. 

Hervé Damas, MD, a former professional football player turned Miami physician, says he believes these bans will become more common because the data shows there’s been an increase in teen usage of nicotine products, specifically Juul.

“These products are marketed as safe alternatives, but we don’t know the long-term effects of vaping because it’s a relatively new delivery method,” Damas told Healthline. “But we know that nicotine is extremely addictive.”

Whether from cigarettes or vaping, public health advocates say those who ingest nicotine through methods that are exhaled pose a risk to those around them.

That risk is exposing the unwilling public to a substance that’s been proven to be addictive.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) didn’t start regulating e-cigarettes the same as tobacco-filled products until 2016.

That’s the same year the World Health Organization recommended that vaping be banned in all the places smoking is because, among other reasons, “secondhand aerosols from e-cigarettes are a new air contamination source for hazardous particulate matter.” 

Essentially, these bans are saying if you consume nicotine in a process that involves your lungs, it isn’t welcome in a place where people regularly share air.

Advocates of smoking bans had to stand up against well-funded attorneys and lobbyists with mounds of paperwork to unequivocally prove that not only was nicotine one of the most addictive legalized substances, but that smoking cigarettes were harmful to human health. 

Similar battle lines have been drawn in the debate over whether to prevent bans on e-cigarettes or not. 

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Pushback on bans

In California, where lawmakers were pushing for a statewide ban on vaping indoors, tobacco industry lobbyists circulated a study out of England that stated e-cigarettes were about 95 percent less harmful than tobacco. An e-cigarette manufacturer paid the main researcher.

“However, there are numerous scientifically sound studies that show the chemicals in e-cigarettes are associated with cancer, respiratory, and heart disease,” the California Tobacco Control Program-funded website TobaccoFreeCA.com states. “This also means that secondhand smoke from vaping may not be as harmless as we have been led to believe.”

California’s statewide ban took effect in April 2016. 

Overall, some research suggests most people are uncertain about the safety of e-cigarettes and view them as a safer alternative to smoking.

Vaping is becoming increasingly popular with teens, reducing years of decline in teen smoking rates.

Still, vaping advocates say the products aren’t for children but shouldn’t be treated the same as tobacco products, especially in being banned from open public spaces, such as parks and beaches.

One of the groups that advocates for business owners to decide if they should allow vaping, including in bars and restaurants, calls itself Vaper Rights.

It’s a website run for “adult e-vapor consumers and other interested stakeholders” by Nu Mark, an offshoot of Altria, the tobacco giant that now owns 35 percent of Juul. 

Now that the FDA is contemplating banning most flavored e-cigarettes from being sold in stores, Juul is ramping up its lobbying power in Washington, D.C.