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Oppose Laws Prohibiting Indoor Public Use of Vapor Products (E-cigarettes) in Wisconsin

This petition had 1,676 supporters

We, the undersigned Wisconsin residents, strongly urge lawmakers to vote "No" on any legislation that proposes to restrict the use of vapor products (e-cigarettes) in all public spaces where smoking is prohibited. There is no evidence that vapor products pose any health risk to bystanders and business owners who find the products problematic for their customers already have the power to prohibit use in their establishments. On the other hand, businesses that wish to cater to vapor consumers, and employers who wish to use indoor use as an incentive for smoking employees to switch, would be forbidden to do so should vapor products be written into existing smoking bans.

The huge benefits to overall public health when smokers switch to low-risk alternatives far outweigh the negligible benefits to bystanders by prohibiting vapor use where smoking is prohibited. Therefore, incentives to switch to harm reduction products should be strongly encouraged and not discouraged in any manner.

Contrary to recent claims, Wisconsin's smoking ban was not created to "guarantee clean indoor air," but was created specifically to eliminate public indoor smoke exposure, because smoking is a known health risk. 

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History and Facts
Smoking is often called the #1 cause of preventable disease and premature death in the United States. Tobacco control efforts had initially made great reductions in both adult and youth smoking rates, however, by 2007 the smoking declines had been stalled for a number of years. While nearly 70% of smokers claimed they wanted to quit, less than 6% actually quit each year and the remaining 30% expressed no intention to quit at all. Clearly, smoking prevention efforts needed some innovation and fresh ideas.

That same year, a new product became more widely available on the U.S. market: electronic cigarettes. The "vapor-not-smoke" products took a new approach in not only that they helped smokers who wanted to quit smoking, but also offered a low-risk alternative for those smokers who had no intention of quitting. Soon, smokers all over the world were reporting a new phenomenon of "accidentally quitting smoking." Meaning, even though they may have purchased the product only to use when they couldn't smoke conventional cigarettes or to save money, they found they no longer desired to smoke conventional cigarettes. This is a phenomenon never before observed with the existing smoking cessation products recommended by public health agencies.

In September of 2013, the CDC issued a report expressing alarm over the youth uptake of vapor products, based on the annual survey of middle and high school students. The CDC not only made it clear that the public should be concerned that e-cigarettes were a possible gateway to smoking, but used the fact that most youth e-cigarette users were also smokers to imply that the e-cigarette use had led them to smoking. In fact, the survey didn't even ask the students which product was used first. It is just as likely that those youth were smoking combustible cigarettes prior to using the e-cigarette, and based on the fact that far more youth indicated they had smoked traditional cigarettes than had ever used an e-cigarette, that is more likely the case.

In an apparent attempt to avoid any possible association, the agency waited two months before releasing the results of the part of the survey about actual cigarette smoking rates. Clearly, the CDC didn't want people to think that the increase in e-cigarette use (then up to 4.5%) had anything to do with the fact that high school smoking rates had significantly declined since 2007 and are now at a historic low (12.7% in 2013 from 20% in 2007.). The agency also declined to report that e-cigarette use by high school youth who reported never having smoked conventional cigarettes first was just 0.6% of those surveyed. To know these facts, yet argue that e-cigarette experimentation may lead youth to smoke, is more than disingenuous. It is blatant misrepresentation and misdirection. The evidence of the past 7 years simply does not point to e-cigarettes leading to youth smoking in any manner. Additionally, recent reports indicate that adult smoking rates are also at historic lows.

Closer to home, Wisconsin's declining youth smoking rate (which had stalled at around 21% from 2004 - 2008) is down to 10.7%, in spite of the "alarming" rate at which youth are experimenting with e-cigarettes. Similarly, Wisconsin adult smoking rates, which had held steady at around 20% from 2005 - 2012, made an unprecedented 2 percentage point drop to 18% by 2014. Tobacco control; groups contributed the sudden decline to the passage of the statewide smoking ban and a tax increase in 2009, but failed to explain why it took 5 years for the effects to manifest. There is no concrete evidence that the drop was partially from smokers switching to vapor products, but one cannot fail to note the coincidence that e-cigarettes first started to get extensive media coverage after the FDA warned against using the products in May of 2012. Ironically, this only drove up sales.

It should be mentioned that "harm reduction" is an accepted method of reducing public health risks. The idea behind harm reduction is to reduce the risks of high-risk behaviors that cannot or will not be quit. Examples include urging the use of condoms and other prophylactics to reduce the risk of STDs, providing clean needles to intravenous drug users, helmets for bicycle and motorcycle riders and seat belts in vehicles. While these practices do not make the behavior "safe," they reduce the risks of those activities and significantly improve public health overall. 

Along those same lines, supporters of TOBACCO harm reduction urge smokers to choose safer alternatives, as well. Because it has been shown, conclusively, that the vast majority of the health risks of tobacco use come from SMOKING the products, it is clear that replacing smoked products with smoke-free products would greatly reduce the health risks of smokers. The problem has been finding a replacement product that would be accepted and widely used by smokers who otherwise cannot or will not stop their smoking behavior.

With smoking declines stalled, it has been surprising to tobacco harm reduction advocates that public health groups and government agencies assigned to protect public health have expressed "alarm and concern" over the increased uptake in the use of a smoke-free product among smokers. Rather than celebrate the end of the dry spell, public health groups and agencies have discouraged the use of vapor products, instead encouraging smokers stay the course that had contributed to the stagnation, claiming there was not enough information to endorse the products and exaggerating the negative aspects of any research they chose to acknowledge.

One claim is "we don't know what is in them." They continue to make this claim even after a decade of research has produced more than 100 studies of the products, which are known to contain 0% to 3.6% nicotine, propylene glycol and/or vegetable glycerin and food flavorings.. Although some chemicals that can be found in traditional cigarettes have been "detected" in some vapor products, a fact that public health groups almost gleefully report as evidence of potential harm, none of the researchers have reported that the levels detected actually pose any kind of health risk. The mere "detection" of a chemical does not guarantee harm. There are many chemicals in products that we consider "safe" to consume that would be toxic at higher levels, such as fluoride, sodium, iron, nickel, zinc and even some vitamins. So, raising an alarm because some of these same chemicals have been detected at low levels in vapor products is disingenuous at best.

Surveys of e-cigarette consumers show that smokers initially try e-cigarettes for a variety of reasons other than as an alternative to pharmaceutical nicotine products, which range from saving money to using the products where smoking is prohibited. These reasons are important "incentives" for smokers to make the switch. It defies logic for lawmakers to pass laws that would serve as a disincentive for smokers to change to a low-risk option. Claiming that the products haven't been determined 100% safe is a straw man fallacy. Other harm reduction policies do not require a 100% safety. Imagine if, during the 1980's AIDS epidemic, public health groups and government agencies had cautioned AGAINST using condoms, because they were not proven to make unsafe sex 100% safe. Of course that would be ridiculous. The point wasn't to make sex 100% safe, but to REDUCE RISKS. Instead of discouraging condom use, public health made every effort to encourage it and bristled at any efforts to curb use, such as those made by groups that called for abstinence-only policies.

Vapor advocates can understand the concern that bystanders may be annoyed or alarmed by vapor use in places like retail stores, government buildings, schools, restaurants and theaters. However, business owners already have the power to prohibit use in their establishments and will be quick to do so should vapor use become an issue. On the other hand, businesses who wish to cater to vapor consumers, such as bars, casinos and clubs; and employers who wish to use indoor use as an incentive to get smoking employees to quit, are not currently prohibited by law from doing so. There are many environments where smoking is now prohibited, but it would make no sense to prohibit the use of vapor products. A law is not needed. In fact, by taking away such an incentive, it would do a greater harm to public health by slowing conversions, which would only serve to keep smokers smoking.

Contrary to recent claims, Wisconsin's smoking ban was not created to "guarantee clean indoor air," but was created specifically to eliminate public indoor smoke exposure, because smoking is a known health risk. If the spirit of the law was to ensure clean indoor air, there are many other indoor pollutants that would also have to be prohibited, such as grill smoke and air freshening chemicals. The intent was to protect people from smoke and encourage smokers to quit. Period.

Experts estimate that "second-hand vapor" has far less chemicals than even second-hand smoke. In fact, it has lower levels of the potentially harmful chemicals that can be found in the air at any typical, smoke-free bar and grill! So, while public health is concerned with "protecting" the public from tiny exposures, it is ignoring the fact that its recommended policies are likely to keep many smokers from making the switch. This would keep smokers and their spouses and children at far higher risk than bystanders would be when exposed to vapor in public spaces. Therefore, vapor bans clearly do far more harm than good.

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