CA officials move to vaporize e-cigs

big tobaccoWith public opinion in flux and anti-tobacco activists on edge, the California Department of Public Health has rolled out “Wake Up,” a slick new ad campaign to discourage the use of e-cigarettes, or “vapes.” Recently, CDPH pronounced e-cigs a threat to public health.

In a statement explaining the campaign, CDPH described two new TV ads emphasizing “the e-cigarette industry’s use of candy flavored ‘e-juice'” and “exposing the fact that big tobacco companies are in the e-cigarette business.”

The move bolstered momentum for broad crackdowns on vapes, which have been targeted by policymakers and activists who see them as just as bad as tobacco cigarettes — if not worse.

Playing politics

Political considerations have played into CDPH’s adverse judgment against vapes. New data recently showed that, last year, the use of e-cigs outpaced the use of tobacco cigarettes among teenagers and young adults.

Defenders of the freedom to vape argued this is good news. Vaping companies have claimed e-cigs help smokers abandon far more dangerous tobacco products, especially those, like traditional cigarettes, that emit high numbers of carcinogens.

But for prohibitionists, e-cigs presented a special hazard because of their accessibility and appeal to children. As the Los Angeles Daily News detailed, those drawbacks appeared to be the product of unregulated marketing, a more pleasurable use experience and apparent carelessness among adult consumers with children:

“Most startling to health officials was the spike in calls to California Poison Control centers related to exposures to accidental e-cigarette poisonings, including drinking the liquid inside. There were seven calls in 2012 to poison control. In 2014, those calls jumped to 243. More than 60 percent of all those e-cigarette related calls involved children 5 years and under.”

As NBC News reported, “bottles and cartridges that contain the liquid for e-cigs have been known to leak and tend not to be equipped with child-resistant caps, creating a potential source of poisoning through ingestion or just through skin contact.”

Although legislation and regulation could be tailored narrowly to focus on the threat of poisoning, public health officials issued a broad warning that comports with the prevailing view among prohibitionists.

Dr. Ron Chapman, State Health Officer and director of the California Department of Public Health, said that “many people do not know that they pose many of the same health risks as traditional cigarettes and other tobacco products.” In January, he called for a “bold public education campaign” to roll back e-cig gains in market share. Anti-smoking advocates working in the policy arena have been all but unanimous in treating e-cigs like an integral part of the same problem as tobacco products.

Safety over freedom

Despite the unfolding research concerning the differences between e-cig effects and those of tobacco cigarettes, prohibitionists in the political arena have used heightened rhetoric of their own to advance vape bans.

Earlier this year, state Sen. Mark Leno, D-San Francisco, underscored how far many officials have been willing to go in departing from the scientific record. In January, he introduced Senate Bill 140, a bill that would ban e-cigs at hospitals, restaurants, schools and workplaces.

“No tobacco product should be exempt from California’s smoke-free laws simply because it’s sold in a modern or trendy disguise,” he warned. Yet, as Reason’s Jacob Sullum observed, e-cigs neither emit smoke nor burn tobacco. Instead, they heat a device which allows the user to exhale a vapor.

SB140 will go into committee hearings this spring, behind a full-steam-ahead approach to cracking down on vapes. As reported previously, the so-called “precautionary principle” — better safe than sorry — has inspired a spate of municipal regulations that treat e-cigs the same way as tobacco cigarettes, despite widespread ignorance and uncertainty as to how the products differ.


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  1. Kathleen O'Connor
    Kathleen O'Connor 28 March, 2015, 21:55

    Dear Cal Watchdog-
    History has shown that prohibition has NEVER worked the way it was marketed. CDPH is playing fast n loose with data to vilify an effective tool in tobacco harm reduction- far more effective that the expensive, Medicare covered NRT products available over the counter-which are FAR more accessbile.

    It makes my brain hurt to have to deal with simple logic explanations.

    If the decision makers would do due diligence, they would see that the numbers are taken out of context. They don’t tell you about the result of the calls to Poison Control. It could of been a question, an ingestion, or other facts about retail vape equipment.

    The burning of tobacco leaves is what creates the toxins, carcinogens yadda yadda yadda. Nicotine IS NOT a carcinogen.
    USP liquid nicotine is a purified extract. The SAME type of liquid nicotine NRT’s are made with.

    As ever, follow the money. Look at the Master Settlement Agreement and how many of the anti-nicotine zealots are recieving funding for their agencies. Tobacco Tax $ pays for First Five and other programs run by the State.

    Mr Chapman recently resigned because of the audit results on the Dept. he was Cheif of. So, CDPH is spending $$$ on this ad buy when thousands of elder abuse claims are still awaiting investigation.

    Reply this comment
  2. Chris H
    Chris H 29 March, 2015, 08:47

    I would think a “watchdog” group might be interested in the possible connection between tens of millions flowing from the same companies that make nicotine patches, gums, and lozenges and the counter intuitively anti ecig stances of these groups. The sales of these products are in severe decline globally because of ecig products. Considering that ecigs are disruptive, anti smoking technology that are primarily sold by small and medium sized companies with no connection to Big Tobacco, isn’t it odd that alleged “anti smoking” groups and entities would be so radically opposed to the technology? You should be considering if there is a connection between the scientifically shaky anti ecig reports coming out of UCSF (the primary source of anti ecig “science” in the US), and an $85 million endowment they received from Pfizer, one of the Big Three in the US in Nicotine Replacement Therapy (NRT) products. Maybe you should be considering why these conflicts of interest that are so clear, are NEVER disclosed. Similar undisclosed conflicts exist with American Cancer Society, American Heart Association, and American Lung Association. All three, particularly Cancer and Lung, are radically opposed to ecigs.

    Is there a reason that a watchdog outfit wouldn’t be questioning over $40K in donations to Sen Leno from pharma companies?

    The story of the effect of this pharma cash on this debate, is in essence the story of the debate itself. In reality, the pool of cash in this debate from the ecig industry, is nothing compared to the effect and size of the usually undisclosed pharma cash. Yet nobody seems to want to talk about it.

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