San Francisco Chronicle -- March 17, 2014
Exhale, San Francisco - it's safe Vapor wars: City must not cave to pressure from career activists Frank Franklin II / Associated Press
There's a new product on the market that offers a chance to find a workable middle ground n America's smoking debate. Called vapes, electronic cigarettes or e-cigarettes, they deliver nicotine with a big twist: Instead of burning tobacco, they vaporize - hence the nickname - a nicotine-containing liquid.
Despite the uniqueness of this product, overzealous lawmakers are champing at the bit to ban e-cigarettes, egged on by career activists who see a public health threat wherever they look. Chicago and New York City have already caved to activist pressure. And now, thanks to a swift vote, Los Angeles is set to extend its blanket prohibition of public cigarette smoking to e-cigs, which emit only vapor, not smoke. But before San Francisco heads in a similar direction, voters should know the truth about e-cigarettes. First and foremost, e-cigarettes are not cigarettes and do not carry the associated harms. The American Association of Public Health Physicians has noted that smokers could reduce their risk of tobacco-related death "by 99.9 percent or better" by switching to products like e-cigarettes. That's quite a reduction. It's not enough, however, for the overzealous activists and officeholders who know how easy it is to mobilize knee-jerk political action against anything with the "c"-word in it. To get their way, regulators are changing the rules. Instead of having to prove that vapes are harmful before they can regulate or ban them - as is the norm with essentially all other consumer roducts - activists and lawmakers are demanding that consumers and businesses prove they are not dangerous before stifling restrictions can be lifted. That may seem like an exercise in wordplay, but in reality, it turns hundreds of years of established legal thinking on its head. It puts businesses in the position of proving a negative - a logical fallacy that busybody regulators and fans of expansive government are perfectly happy to exploit. This is a dangerous precedent. If businesses are not able to sell technologically advanced products - and consumers not able to benefit from the same - until they are proved unharmful, we'll quickly succumb to unscientific and demagogic fear campaigns. Business owners will be forced to devote their time and energy to warding off baseless attacks from finger-wagging do-gooders. Commerce will be blunted and innovation will be suffocated as fewer new products are brought to market. Making the switch from smoking cigarettes to inhaling smokeless nicotine could be beneficial to smokers, ex-smokers, and nonsmokers alike. After all, many of the arguments in favor of banning smoking in places like bars and restaurants were out of concern for the health of employees and patrons. But since vapes aren't regular cigarettes, there's no smoke to afflict onsmokers.
San Franciscans don't have to give in to the same scare tactics and faulty logic that turned the Los Angeles City Council against vapes. Rushing into a sweeping "solution" for a problem that doesn't exist makes it all too likely that consumer health and common sense will soon go up in smoke.
Sarah Longwell is the communications director for the Center for Consumer Freedom, a nonprofit group "devoted to promoting personal responsibility and protecting consumer choices." Headquartered in Washington, D.C., it lobbies on behalf of the fast-food, meat, alcohol and tobacco industries.