What’s Up Wednesday 6/19/19

The Great San Francisco e-cigarette Ban

Anything like the Great Train Robbery?  Before it’s all said and done, everyday vapers in San Francisco may decide so.  It seems that their city government is hurtling toward initiating a ban on sales of e-cigarettes there.  The impetus for the new law is legitimate – a desire to discourage and protect underage users – and nobody can argue that, in some locales (though I wouldn’t say that San Francisco is one necessarily) and even more in online sales portals, these products are heavily peddled to minors (at this point I have to concede that, if I had a minor, I would rather see that minor pick up an e-cigarette than shake a cigarette from a pack – any day).

There needs to be final approval for the bill to become law (and as I understand it there will be a seven-month grace period from the date of the mayor’s signature before the law takes effect) – but San Francisco’s Board of Supervisors voted unanimously to prohibit the sale of e-cigarettes in all stores in the city (and for good measure to stop e-cigarette deliveries to San Francisco addresses).  This surely will put some underage users out of action – but just as quickly they’ll figure a method around it (I was a kid once myself).  Vaping giant, Juul, headquartered in San Francisco, is vehemently opposed to the action and already working to reverse this legislation.  Good luck.  The San Francisco Board of Directors voted to pass it 11-0.  Sounds like it’s got plenty of support.

Does that make it good policy?  The new law is going to appeal to most parents (has there ever been a time when parents wanted their kids to start smoking) – smoking is one of the things (in a group of sins alongside drug use, drinking, and underage sex, gang relations in some places) you’re destined to worry about as a parent – so I’ve been told often).  The statistics concerning the number of middle-schoolers and high-schoolers who have taken to using tobacco (includes vaping) will get your attention.  According to the CDC (Center for Disease Control), that number has risen from 3.6 million in 2017 (a number that itself will get your attention) to just under 5 million now (vapers account for a huge percentage of that increase –rising from 2.1 million in 2017 to over 3.5 million today).

There is a firm movement, opposed by the Juuls of the world (and Juul currently owns 75% of the U.S. vaping market) to curb not just the access to tobacco products but the marketing efforts that companies (like Juul) have engineered specifically for the consumption of teens.  It’s proven science that nicotine has a negative effect on the developing (young adult) brain – and it’s also accurate to say that teens who take up tobacco products are likelier to still be using those products in adulthood than their peers who didn’t experiment (in fact I’ve seen this in my own small circle of friends).  But those types of warnings have been around and directed at teens for generations.  It’s not just vaping.  Adults will blithely lecture that tobacco in any form at all is damaging.  They’ll assure you when you’re that age that pot (marijuana I mean) is damaging (and vaping can be used to ingest THC – the primary ingredient in pot – too).  You’ll hear or read that, for young adults at least, antidepressants are damaging.  You’ll discover that just about any prescription drug or med can be damaging.  Plenty of over-the-counter meds are damaging if misused – if the wrong dose is taken or an allergic reaction occurs.  At some point those warnings, due to their number and perhaps diminishing ferocity, become hackneyed and stale and repetitive, easy as hell for a kid to write off as parent-speak.

Contrast the reaction to vaping of San Francisco’s politicians with the reaction to it of government officials in the UK.  Britain’s government has undertaken a campaign encouraging users of traditional tobacco products to adopt vaping instead – as a means to improve health and perhaps ultimately to help the individual tobacco user give it up completely.  If it’s a question of the lesser of two evils, the British have taken the position that an e-cigarette is ninety-five percent safer for the body to use than a traditional cigarette.  They also claim that as many as seventy percent of those attempting to quit tobacco have been able to quit it successfully with vaping as a means to wean them off.  Competent studies have shown that e-cigarettes are superior to traditional tobacco goods in many respects (such as these):

*They provide ten times less exposure to destructive particles than traditional tobacco products

*Their produced organic carcinogens (these are the normally-occurring substances in our everyday environments which have been shown to cause cancer – things like arsenic) almost zero; organic carcinogens are plentiful byproducts of traditional tobacco

*Lower amounts of harmful lead and zinc than are found in traditional tobacco smoke

On the other hand, e-cigarettes:

**Give off chromium (missing from the smoke of ordinary cigarettes)

**Contain significantly higher levels of nickel than ordinary cigarettes (here’s an interesting factoid – nickel is responsible for more exposure-related allergy attacks than all other metals combined – meaning that it can have a particularly devastating effect on some members of the population – and you probably won’t know you’re one of them in advance).

If you’ve spent any time at all around vapers (especially if you’ve been in an indoor setting where a steady amount of vaping occurs), you’ve probably witnessed yourself that the smoke created by those devices doesn’t dangle in the air the way that ordinary tobacco smoke will, you won’t look aloft to find it curling through the upper corners of the room, or creating a blue fog that can almost require a machete to get through.

Well here’s my conclusion: I think that if you examine it from every angle, all things considered, San Francisco’s citywide ban on e-cigarettes and related vaping materials demonstrates that the hearts of its city planners are in the right place – but maybe it doesn’t say so much about their heads.

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