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Health Advocates: Close NY's “e-Cigarette Loophole”

e-cigarettes, imported from China
e-cigarettes, imported from China

Health advocates gathered at the state capitol in Albany to call for closure of what they call an “e-cigarette loophole.”

Battery-powered e-cigarettes first became available in the United States in 2006, when they were heralded as an effective way to wean people off tobacco. Users fired up the devices in public places where traditional cigarettes were no longer allowed. But with a decade of use behind them, e-cigarettes are now in the crosshairs of lawmakers and leaders of local health organizations, who see them as annoyances, the vapor they produce damaging like second-hand tobacco smoke.

Health advocates have stepped up their call for passage and enactment of legislation that will include e-cigarettes in New York’s Clean Indoor Air Law. The advocates say New York City and 70 percent of municipalities throughout the state have passed local laws barring e-cigarettes.

Democratic Assemblymember Linda Rosenthal and Republican New York Senator Kemp Hannon support the bill. Rosenthal is confident the measure can get through both houses of the legislature. "For years, advocates have been working assiduously to make smoking indoors taboo. It's not allowed anymore. People are frowned upon when they do it. No longer can smoking be viewed as glamorous by youth and teens and other people. However, with the increase in vaping, there's a huge increase in the number of youth taking up that habit and then moving onto cigarettes. We need to stop that."

Dr. Mark Travers
Credit WAMC photo by Dave Lucas
Dr. Mark Travers: " . Electronic cigarette emissions include nicotine, the weed killer acrolein, the embalming agent formaldehyde and the cancer causing chemical and irritant acetaldehyde. "

At least one person concedes that, while there is reason to be hopeful that e-cigarettes have the potential to reduce disease caused by tobacco... "The best thing a smoke can do is to quit completely."  Dr. Mark Travers is assistant professor of oncology and director of the Air Pollution Exposure Research Laboratory at Roswell Park Cancer Institute.  "There is reason to be very concerned about potential unintended consequences of electronic cigarettes. Some people may use e-cigarettes as a reason to continue their cigarette smoking. Youth who have never smoked may take up cigarettes, and former smokers may be enticed back to the tobacco marketplace. These are outcomes that are bad for public health."

Travers adds e-cigarettes are not emission-free, not 100 percent safe, and there are no regulatory standards when it comes to the manufacturing process.

Alex Clark is the legislative coordinator for the Consumer Advocates for Smoke-Free Alternatives Association, a non-profit clearinghouse for information about smoking alternatives:  "Enacting a blanket statewide policy that says vaping is just as dangerous as smoking is irresponsible. The Royal College of Physicians in the UK recently stated that it would be inappropriate for legislation to prohibit vaping in public places or workplaces. The real public health emergency here is that smokers are being misled about the risk of switching to smoke-free products like e-cigarettes."

The federal government announced this month that it will subject electronic cigarettes to regulations requiring manufacturers to submit their products for review. The new rules will prohibit sales to anyone under age 18.

There are other dangers associated with the devices:  U.S. Senator Charles Schumer is calling on the federal government to investigate cases of exploding electronic cigarettes, responsible for injuring at least four New York residents.

Credit WAMC photo by Dave Lucas
Jennifer Mentzer addresses those gathered at the Legislative Office Building, NYS Capitol, Albany, NY.

Jennifer Mentzer, 13 years old, Reality Check Youth working with the Tobacco Free Action Communities (TFAC) in Ulster, Dutchess, Sullivan HealthAlliance of the Hudson Valley said; “Just the other night I was in a movie theater when two kids started smoking an e-cigarette, and none of the staff asked them to stop. This was shocking to me! What is even more shocking is that most of the schools in my area do not even have a rule against e-cigarettes. It is time for a change. It is time for us to protect our next generation.”

Dave Lucas is WAMC’s Capital Region Bureau Chief. Born and raised in Albany, he’s been involved in nearly every aspect of local radio since 1981. Before joining WAMC, Dave was a reporter and anchor at WGY in Schenectady. Prior to that he hosted talk shows on WYJB and WROW, including the 1999 series of overnight radio broadcasts tracking the JonBenet Ramsey murder case with a cast of callers and characters from all over the world via the internet. In 2012, Dave received a Communicator Award of Distinction for his WAMC news story "Fail: The NYS Flood Panel," which explores whether the damage from Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee could have been prevented or at least curbed. Dave began his radio career as a “morning personality” at WABY in Albany.
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