Editorial: City’s tobacco crackdown leaves e-cig sellers, er, short of breath

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“But if me and a certain character met that guy that invented the cigarette - I’d murder that son of a gun in the first degree” – Tex Williams, “Smoke Smoke Smoke That Cigarette”

The Sonoma City Council dug its heel into the glowing embers of underage smoking this week – and deliquified the selling of electronic cigarettes in town, laying to rest any visions of sugarplum-flavored vaping dancing in kids’ heads.

The council’s 5 – 0 decision put into effect a Tobacco Retailers Licensing Ordinance, and one of its more reaching offshoots is a ban on the sale of flavored tobacco products, which by the city’s definition includes e-cigarettes.

Local e-cig sellers cried foul, as their tobacco-free devices rely on flavored vapor to deliver the nicotine kicks. Alas, their protests were to no avail, as the city council pulled out the “it’s for the children” battle cry.

There’s some validity to the arguments from both sides, but here are a few realities not fully acknowledged during the debate over the city’s ban on selling e-cigs:

• The City Council has effectively deprived (within the city, that is) nicotine addicts of a far healthier bad habit than actual cigarettes. E-cig critics argue that “the science isn’t in” on the health consequences of vaping – technically true. And while absence of evidence isn’t evidence of absence, it’s still absence of evidence – and by that we mean there may not be any major adverse health consequences to vaping. Meanwhile, this we know: tobacco smoke destroys cilia and alveoli – which sound like tasty types of pasta, but are really the cleaning agents in our lungs. We need them to live – and it’s tobacco that snuffs it out. In prohibiting the sale of tobacco-less e-cigs, it could be argued that the council has banned a product with important health benefits for its tobacco-using residents.

• One e-cig retailer at the May 18 council meeting asked the room: “Do you like bubble gum? Do you like Gummi Bears? Do you like marshmallows? Yes! Adults want these flavors, not kids.” Hmm. He’s consorting with a different set of adults and kids than the rest of us. Where we come from, kids are the Gummivores in the room, and such flavors are clearly aimed at a younger, more-easily-duped-by-marketing generation. When the vaping retailers deny this, they lose credibility.

• More than one vaping proponent has pointed out the City’s double standard when it comes to protecting Valley youth from unhealthy habits. How about the teen-drinking problem in Wine Country? Or the possibility that soda pop is a greater scourge than e-liquids? We don’t see a crackdown on chardonnay or Mountain Dew retailers on the council’s agenda, nor do we expect to anytime soon.

• Nicotine is addictive, however nicotine itself has never been shown to demonstrate a serious health risk (e-cig proponents compare it to caffeine). Neither have e-liquids (though, no long-term studies have had a chance to play out). So here’s a question: Did the city council ban the sale of a product because the use of it looks like a bad adult habit? Are squirt guns any different? Or kids ordering a Shirley Temple in restaurants?

• Final point: Part of living in a society is sucking up a bit of inconvenience from time to time for the overall benefit of the community. The council took the stand that, even without the benefit of long-term studies of vaping, keeping kids away from nicotine was worth a tight restriction on an otherwise legal recreational product. E-cigarette retailers don’t have to like it, but they’ve got to understand the reasoning behind it.

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