All vaping regulations proposed or passed by vigilant legislatures across the US can be thought of as falling into one of two categories: regulations on the production and distribution of e-cigarettes and vaping devices, and regulations on the use of these devices in public spaces. This may not be a groundbreaking observation, but underlying these regulatory categories is an implicit categorization of these devices as, in much the same way as cigarettes, posing a risk to public health or well-being. By contrast, other nicotine replacement therapies have only been subjected to the first regulatory category under the authority of the FDA, while justifiably escaping the second category.
In some legislations, like Connecticut and Utah, the rash categorization of vaping devices as practically the same as cigarettes and clearly distinct from other NRTs (perhaps because they are actually effective in helping smokers quit) has been made explicit by the proposed redefinition of tobacco products as including e-cigarettes. While federal law defines tobacco products as “cigars, cigarettes, smokeless tobacco, pipe tobacco and roll-your-own tobacco,” where smokeless tobacco refers to snuff or chewing tobacco, state legislators have pushed to expand that definition and subject vapers to the same restrictions as cigarette smokers.
But is there any basis for that sort of reclassification other than lack of reflection? Not really. While cigarettes release thousands (11,000, to be precise) of contaminants into the air, only nicotine has been detected in second-hand aerosol. Moreover, nicotine levels detected in passive vaping aerosol are 10 times lower than nicotine levels caused by second-hand smoke. And all of this, of course, is only true in relatively small, enclosed spaces. So not only do vaping aerosols not present any of the dangers associated with second-hand smoke – nicotine is problematic primarily because of its addictive potential to the smoker, not because of health risks it presents – but none of this even applies to outdoor spaces such as public parks, beaches, or sidewalks. Passive vaping aerosol has little in common with second-hand smoke, yet it continues to be treated as equivalent.
Having said that, I also wish that the myth of the dangers of public exposure to second hand smoke would finally be laid to rest. A discussion of this topic is too lengthy to include here at this time, but it suffices to say that the evidence used to back up public, and especially outdoor, smoking bans on the basis of the danger posed to others is scant at best. The few studies that have shown even small correlations between the occurrence of various respiratory issues and exposure to second hand smoke have focused on long-term exposure in subjects’ homes, which may justify smoking bans in places where long-term indoor exposure is likely, but cannot justify outdoor smoking bans. So while second-hand vaping aerosol is orders of magnitude safer than second-hand smoke, it’s worthwhile to note that much of anti-tobacco activism is already grounded upon a faulty factual foundation.
Opposition to tobacco, of course, is grounded in an incontrovertible fact: that smoking tobacco is a dangerous activity whose spread we should aim to minimize. However, even as smoking has steadily been declining in the US, both among adults and among teenagers, anti-smoking activism has grown shriller, in the process throwing aside the scientific evidence that was once its driving force.
Vaping, of course, has gotten caught in the undertow. Ironically, it is exactly the aspect of vaping that makes it the most successful quitting method that has resulted in its conflation with smoking: the fact that vaping can actually mimic the smoking experience. However, what legislators are missing is that the second element of its success should dissolve the connection: unlike smoking, vaping has not yet been shown to pose much danger to the vaper, and it has actively been shown not to pose any danger to people around him or her.