For over thirty years I have worked to promote a smoke-free Wisconsin. I authored and helped usher through the Legislature the original Wisconsin Clean Indoor Air Act and more recently, passage of the Smoke Free Wisconsin Act which expanded the smoking ban to workplaces.
Now we face a new threat to our right to breath clean air as e-cigarettes have rapidly gained popularity among adults and youth in the United States and worldwide. Manufacturers have promoted e-cigarettes as a way to quit regular cigarettes and claim that they are a safe alternative to conventional cigarettes. However, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has questioned the safety of these products. Further, marketing campaigns are actively targeting youth. E-cigarette flavors now include fruity and sweet blends in addition to traditional tobacco and menthol flavors.
Though we don’t know much about the long-term effects of e-cigarette use, we do know that the vapor exhaled is not pure water vapor. Studies have shown that emissions from e-cigarettes contain a mix of not only nicotine, but carcinogens (known cancer causing substances) and other toxic particles, including formaldehyde. And in a new report, researchers from the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory found that the vapor released from e-cigarettes contains at least 31 harmful chemicals, including two possibly cancer-causing compounds that had not previously been found in e-cigarette vapor.
E-cigarettes may also be a new route to conventional smoking and nicotine addiction for teenagers. In a study of more than 40,000 youth nationwide, researchers found that e-cigarette use among middle and high school students doubled between 2011 and 2012. Researchers also found that youths who used e-cigarettes were more likely to eventually smoke conventional cigarettes and less likely to quit smoking.
While e-cigarettes are not specifically addressed in Wisconsin’s Indoor Smoking Ban, legislation was introduced which would have created a special exemption for e-cigarettes from the Wisconsin Indoor Smoking Ban. Thankfully, this legislation never came to a vote.
In my opinion, specifically exempting e-cigarettes from the indoor smoking ban would be a giveaway to tobacco companies, could expose more people to nicotine and carcinogenic vapor, and would send a dangerous message to minors about nicotine use. The right to breathe clean air is something we need to protect, not weaken.