Should Philly really regulate e-cigs like regular cigarettes?

By Josh Kruger
Add Comment Add Comment | Comments: 2 | Posted Apr. 2, 2014

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Some people have told me that I have an anger problem, but I don’t know what the fuck they’re talking about.

I mean, all I want to do is smoke a goddamned cigarette. Being sober from booze and drugs means that I want to at least enjoy the one last vice I have: nicotine. Yes, my smoking addiction is inherently stupid, but I am an adult. I should be able to do whatever I want whenever I want wherever I want as long as I’m not harming anyone else in the process. And so should everyone else—including those who smoke differently than I do.

So when I heard that Philadelphia City Councilman Bill Greenlee wanted to start regulating e-cigarettes, my first instinct was to go libertarian. Once again, the nanny staters were infringing on my right to slowly kill myself and/or have a great time doing it. Goddamned communists, I thought, and shook my fist at a cloud.

Then, I actually called the councilman’s office.

“If people want to [smoke an e-cigarette], sit in the park and use it. Go outside, use it,” Greenlee said. “If it makes people quit smoking, we want people to quit smoking, so do it.”

Huh. He didn’t sound like a fascist at all.

What Greenlee proposed, and what city council unanimously approved last week, was a measure limiting Philadelphians’ use of e-cigarettes and electronic vaporizers in bars and public places—and their sale to children. The bill basically says these things will be treated the same, legally, as cigarettes.

Electronic vaporizers are those pipe-like doohickeys that use liquid, oftentimes containing nicotine, to allow people to get their cigarette fix with water vapor instead of smoke. More specifically, e-cigarettes are those cig-looking-thingamabobs often with little lights at the tip that glow brighter with each drag users take, also usually delivering a nicotine fix to the “smoker.” Neither of these items emits an offensive, tar-ridden odor like cigarette smoke.

Now, given all the truly damaging ways with which adults rot themselves inside out, these things seem quaint. You probably have more to worry about breathing near a SEPTA tailpipe than you do being around e-cigarettes and vaporizers. Despite the liberal handwringing surrounding these items, they appear to be tremendously less harmful than cigarettes.

Putting aside any such public-health concern-trolling, I still am left with the sense that banning their sale to minors is wise. After all, we’ve long since established that kids in America do not have the legal right to purchase tobacco—and in Philly, the cards are nonetheless already stacked against growing up smoke-free. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says: “Philadelphia has the highest rate of adult smoking among the 10 largest US cities, at 25.2 percent… 7.3% of Philadelphia high school students are [already] regular smokers.” Even worse is the fact that kids are already buying tobacco products in stores illegally, with the CDC claiming that one third of “youth smokers illegally purchases his or her own cigarettes.”

Greenlee’s bill aims to mitigate the possibility of kids skirting the tobacco restriction and developing a tobacco-free-but-still-harmful nicotine habit. This is a good thing, unless you think schoolchildren have a god-given right to become addicted to nicotine as minors, in which case good luck with that.

Along with this, Greenlee wants to approach e-cigarettes the same way we approach cigarette smoking in bars: Do it outside. Now, I’ll always look at the indoor smoking ban with some level of hostility; after all, if people want to do adult things like sit in a bar, they might as well be able to smoke there, too. I must confront the fact, though, that the overwhelming majority of my peers disagree with me.

At that city council meeting, e-cigarette and vaporizer users opposed to the public-vaping restriction claimed repeatedly that forcing them to go outside to use their products was the same thing as forcing an alcoholic to sit in front of a drink at a bar. Because, apparently, “outside” is not a large enough space for them to not have to stand right next to the people smoking real cigarettes—which would unduly tempt them.

Part of Greenlee’s bill bans the use of these vaporizers and e-cigarettes inside bars because the products’ use often leads to “confusion”—i.e., passersby will think the bar permits regular smoking. Now, users of the products argue reflexively that if a bartender cannot see a person actually using the product versus someone just sucking on it, then nobody can enforce the ban. It’s sort of like saying that having a cigarette hanging out of your mouth unlit in a bar is confusing.

Well, it is confusing. People who walk around with unlit cigarettes oftentimes startle others in areas where smoking is banned; I’ve accidentally done it myself, putting a cigarette in my mouth in anticipation of going outside, getting caught up in conversation, and then getting a prompt jeer from some goodie-two-shoes. After all, it looks like I’m smoking at the bar—which is obnoxious and illegal.

E-cigarettes lead to similar confusion. I specifically recall sitting in a gay bar a few years back, and some fellow started not-smoking an e-cigarette—which, you know, is designed to look like a cigarette. Sitting across the room, I thought this guy was just plain lighting up, and I remember thinking, Why can’t I smoke at this bar if that asshole can?

Right about that time, the bartender asked him, politely, not to do so at the bar. Now, keep in mind that in a dark, alcohol-fueled space, affronts to our whimsical American obsession with fairness rapidly grow into serious conflicts. This is exactly what happened: The guy went bananas, going off about personal freedom, how the device wasn’t an actual cigarette, and why the bartender was obviously a very stupid person indeed.

With this in mind, I’m starting to think that people who advocate “personal freedom” from the libertarian perspective are engaging in a curious kabuki theater. Personal freedom seems to the panacea for all of America’s problems in these people’s minds when, in reality, they’re just using it as a blanket excuse to be dickheads.

Folks, nobody wants to take your vaporizers away—or your adult right to act like an idiot and indulge your addiction. And here’s the thing: Getting melodramatic about things that aren’t actually assaults on freedom make it harder for other people to actually pay attention when freedom is genuinely in peril.

So, really. Take your ass outside to use it in public, don’t give it or sell it to kids, and we’ll all get along.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to go outside to have a smoke.

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1. Anonymous said... on Apr 2, 2014 at 12:49PM

“The argument about keeping nicotine products out of the hands of children sounds reasonable on its surface, until you consider the following: 1) anyone can buy nicotine gum over the counter with no age verification, 2) nicotine patches and inhalers are approved for use by children as young as 12, and 3) decades of research have consistently shown that nicotine, when delivered by a means other than tobacco smoke, is not particularly habit-forming and has a very low potential for abuse. In fact, there's never been a single study anywhere in which people who never smoked developed a dependence for nicotine when it was administered through a non-tobacco delivery system.”

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2. Nichol said... on Apr 5, 2014 at 10:12AM

“Ever notice that all the crap we have to put up with has the underlying theme of, "it's for the children"? For example, the LCB, the State Stores, and the fact that I can't buy beer in the grocery store is only because we must protect the children.

I don't smoke, and I think most smokers are littering pigs...but we don't need another regulation on our already over-regulated lives. Oh, and don't be fooled, this is all about the lost tax revenue. The city and state could care less about anything else.”

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