Letter to the Editor

BY L.C. GRAF | SEPTEMBER 19, 2014 5:00 AM

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Editorial wrong on e-cigarettes

The DI’s editorial on Sept. 16 opposing the proposed restrictions of electronic cigarettes (e-cigarettes) in public indoor areas reveals some interesting internal contradictions. Before addressing these, I must correct the factual inaccuracy of the editorial, which states that nicotine and flavorings are “… inhaled through water vapor.” That is what the manufacturers and early advertisements (since pulled) would have you believe. Actually, the nicotine and flavorings are carried in propylene glycol and glycerin.

The Editorial Board quotes one study that concludes that e-cigarettes have a “lesser” number of “harmful particles” than regular tobacco smoke. This study does not conclude that e-cigarettes are safe or harmless, just not as harmful as regular cigarettes. It appears, then, that the Editorial Board accepts UI Clinical Professor Richard Dobyns’ third floor versus 10th floor analogy. Extending this analogy so that the public understands what public-health officials are trying to achieve, let’s accept that we are currently on the ground floor of no tobacco smoke allowed in indoor public spaces. And let’s accept that tobacco cigarette smoke puts non-smokers on the 10th floor. Now, e-cigarettes come along. We all have concluded that the vapor is not totally harmless, just less harmful than tobacco smoke. (It contains nicotine, various volatile organic compounds and particulate matter in sufficient amounts to be detected in non-e-cigarette users exposed to the vapor.) So, if the Editorial Board suggests that e-cigarettes should be allowed in indoor public spaces and that we should all move up to the second or third floor. Why should we? Wouldn’t it be more reasonable to remain on the ground floor?

The editorial argues that attempts to limit indoor public use of e-cigarettes implies that e-cigarettes are just as harmful as tobacco cigarettes. No such claims have been made. That was an incorrect inference on the part of the Editorial Board. On the other hand, the editorial does seems to concede the fact that e-cigarettes are not benign and that further research is needed. The editorial then goes on to contradict itself saying that “What we know now is that e-cigs are largely safer than traditional cigarettes …” and then states “… the research on e-cigarettes is still incomplete, which means that indoor bans in certain public places could be a reasonable middle ground …” We don’t “know” they are safer. We hope they are, we have some evidence that they may be, but the research is so far from complete so that we do not know. The editorial did get it right by calling for bans in certain indoor places, which is what is being sought — the inclusion of e-cigarettes in areas where cigarette smoking is already prohibited. So let’s not give up our current spot on the ground floor of safe indoor air quality for the uncertainties of the floors upstairs. Remember, the introduction of e-cigarettes indoors pushes the “up” button for us all.

Douglas Beardsley, M.P.H., is the director of Johnson County Public Health.

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