OUR OPINION: Absent a hazard, state should hold off
The debate in today's Herald about e-cigarettes is not an academic one. Earlier this month, the Minnesota Senate's Health, Human Services and Housing committee approved a bill to ban the use of e-cigarettes in public places.
The debate in today’s Herald about e-cigarettes is not an academic one. Earlier this month, the Minnesota Senate’s Health, Human Services and Housing committee approved a bill to ban the use of e-cigarettes in public places.
Should lawmakers in the rest of the Legislature approve the ban?
For several reasons, the answer seems to be no.
One big reason is that the Food and Drug Administration is in the process of drafting rules on e-cigarettes. And as a writer for Bloomberg BusinessWeek described, “the proposed regulations could be anything from basic rules ensuring that the nicotine cartridges contain what they’re supposed to and that the devices are safe, to … restrictions on flavored products and sexy marketing campaigns.”
The rules could come out as early as this year, and that suggests Minnesota can wait. After all, while there are a number of good arguments against e-cigarettes, none of them describe the products as a public-health emergency or anything close.
Here’s another reason why Minnesota can tread somewhat lightly: Some of the early research on e-cigarettes has an air of reassurance about it.
For example, consider the 2011 study in the Journal of Public Health Policy, which declared that “a preponderance of the available evidence shows [e-cigarettes] to be much safer than tobacco cigarettes and comparable in toxicity to conventional nicotine replacement products.”
Given these early findings and the fact that the FDA is drafting federal rules, Minnesota should come down on the side of letting adults make their own decisions. E-cigarettes don’t seem to be causing health problems at this point and aren’t drawing many complaints (unlike, say, tobacco-based cigarettes and their second-hand smoke).
So, there’s no real urgency for the state to impose a heavy-handed ban.
And there’s one other reason why Minnesota should consider holding off: Once a ban gets put in place, easing it would be a heavy lift - even if the evidence comes down squarely in e-cigarettes’ favor.
That’s the way politics and political inertia work, especially with a product that a) is a cousin - even a distant cousin - of cigarettes, and b) already is tainted by having been banned.
Better to let Minnesotans keep their freedom to decide, while lawmakers and regulators await Washington’s next move.
- Tom Dennis for the Herald