There’s a lot we don’t know about electronic cigarettes. There’s even a lot the Food and Drug Administration doesn’t know about them.
The FDA has proposed regulations that would set an age limit for buying them and require them to have a warning label about nicotine addiction. The agency also has done a study that found half of the e-cigarettes tested contained cancer-causing substances.
Here in Wisconsin, we have a ban on selling them to minors, enacted in 2012. The state also has an indoor workplace ban on tobacco cigarettes — and a question about whether it should include e-cigarettes.
Based on what we know about them — and more on what we don’t know about them — the ban should be expanded to include e-cigarettes.
Billed as an alternative to tobacco cigarettes, especially for those trying to quit smoking, e-cigarettes are devices that have a battery and an atomizer. They heat liquid that’s infused with nicotine and users inhale the vapors.
What’s in them varies — and ingredients aren’t required on their labels. So, whether those ingredients are harmful to users is a mystery.
That’s a problem for users but — like using tobacco or many other harmful but legal substances — the user’s choice.
But what kinds of vapors are released into the air around users — call it second-hand vapor — is a public problem. And that’s just as much of a mystery.
As Wendy Vander Zanden, executive director of Community Action for Healthy Living, told Post-Crescent Media, “We don’t know what people are being exposed to. It’s probably cleaner (than cigarette smoke), but when we compare it to clean air, there’s a huge difference.”
Just as tobacco smokers have a right to smoke, but are prohibited from doing so inside indoor workplaces because of the harmful effects to others, e-cigarette users should face the same restriction for the same reason.
In this case, given what we do and don’t know, it’s better to ban them from indoor workplaces until we find out whether they’re safe for those who are around users.
And, as in the case with the statewide smoking ban, it can start with communities enacting their own bans.
— An Appleton Post-Crescent editorial