California Sees Smoke, Suspects Fire and Declares E-Cigarettes a Health Threat

Friday, January 30, 2015

In a bid to deny youngsters an opportunity to ape all their parents’ and grandparents’ worst habits from their youth, the California Department of Public Health (CDPH) issued a report (pdf) warning against a serious health threat posed by e-cigarettes and called for action to restrict its use.

“Comprehensive steps taken now can prevent a new generation of young people from becoming addicted to nicotine, avoid future health disparities and avert an unraveling of California’s approximately $2-billion, 25-year investment in public health efforts to prevent and reduce tobacco use in California,” the report warns.

Vaping’s popularity is exploding nationally, especially among the young. It is expected to be a $10-billion industry by 2017. California passed an early milestone last year when the number of 8th, 10th and 12th-graders vaping exceeded those smoking traditional tobacco. 

The CDPH report warned that “e-cigarettes contain nicotine, a highly addictive neurotoxin” and that mainstream and second-hand smoke from them “contain at least ten chemicals that are on California’s Proposition 65 list of chemicals known to cause cancer, birth defects, or other reproductive harm.”

E-cigarettes, which vaporize liquids containing nicotine, have been marketed as a less harmful way of smoking and a way to help kick the old-school tobacco habit. The report acknowledged that vaping may, indeed, be safer than cigarettes, but that doesn’t mean they are safe. “Exposure to nicotine during adolescence can harm brain development,” it says, while maintaining there is “no scientific evidence that e-cigarettes help smokers successfully quit traditional cigarettes.”

The tobacco industry, which saw its sales and profits hammered the last two decades, has struck gold with vaping. Advertising campaigns target children using cartoon characters hawking products that use sweet-flavored “vape juices,” while dangling the prospect of older smokers reclaiming a favorite addiction at “low-risk.”    

This wasn’t supposed to happen—another generation hooked on a dangerous drug sold legally and advertised everywhere to young and old. The state passed a law in 1988 that taxed cigarettes 25 cents a pack and put the money in the California Tobacco Control Program for educating the public about the dangers of smoking.

Ten years later the tobacco industry capitulated and agreed to give the states hundreds of billions of dollars as compensation for the ravages its products wrought on public health and to fund prevention programs. 

So, what did happen?

A report from the Center for Tobacco Control Research and Education at the University of California, San Francisco, points a finger at “the combination of weak leadership at the state level, willingness of political leaders to accept tobacco industry money, and inflation eroding the spending power of the California Tobacco Control Program.”

The program wasn’t indexed for inflation, so it only packs about 53% of its original punch. And California, like many other states, parceled out its billions of tobacco lawsuit dollars to the counties and a few cities. They in turn traded the revenues for Wall Street bonds that gave them an instant cash return (at a very high cost), which they spent on any number of non-tobacco-related activities.

The CDPH report comes just days after state Senator Mark Leno (D-San Francisco) introduced legislation that would treat e-cigarettes like tobacco products. Right now, they are exempt from laws that forbid sales to minors and restrict where smoking is allowed. It’s deja vu all over again.

–Ken Broder


To Learn More:

California Labels E-Cigarettes a Public Health Threat (by Reid Wilson, Washington Post)

California Declares Electronic Cigarettes a Health Threat (by Elizabeth Aguilera, Associated Press)

E-Cigarettes Come Under Fire from State Health Experts (by Victoria Colliver, San Francisco Chronicle)

California Declares Electronic Cigarettes a Health Threat (by Tripp Mickle, Wall Street Journal)

California’s Tobacco Control Efforts Losing Steam, Finds UCSF Report (by Elizabeth Fernandez, University of California, San Francisco)

$2-Billion E-Cigarette Industry Unleashes Lobbying Blitz to Limit Taxes and Regulation (by Noel Brinkerhoff and Danny Biederman, AllGov)

State Health Officer’s Report on E-Cigarettes (California Department of Public Health) (pdf)

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