Last week, the D.C. Council voted unanimously to make all D.C. parks and bus shelters smokefree.
There’s just one hitch: The bill was weakened by the Council Chair, Phil Mendelson, who amended it on the floor.
His amendments, which we didn’t get until well after the vote, did two things: 1) eliminate criminal penalties; and 2) specify that the measure pertains only to tobacco products. E-cigarettes, which D.C. Councilmember Mary Cheh (D-Ward 3) had rightly added, are no longer covered.
How shortsighted. Here’s why:
According to the FDA, e-cigarettes contain many chemicals and ultrafine particles that can become embedded in the lungs, just as regular cigarettes do. The effect on people sitting nearby — in other words, people inhaling secondhand vapor — isn’t known. The mist certainly isn’t as smelly, cough-inducing or annoying as tobacco smoke. One German study found that toxins were still a problem in secondhand vapor, but at about 20% of the level from tobacco cigarettes. And a report this year by the German Cancer Research Center concluded that harm to secondhand inhalers couldn’t be ruled out because of metals and carcinogenic chemicals. The paper also cited the substances that irritate people’s airways as a reason not to assume that “vaping” indoors harms no one other than the person puffing on the e-cigarette.”
2) E-cigarettes can look very realistic. What the smoker blows out looks like smoke. This creates confusion if they are smoked in areas that are supposed to be smokefree, and may prompt people who smoke cigarettes to light up their real cigarettes. If you want to see what smoking an e-cigarette looks like, check out this video.
3) E-cigarettes are becoming a gateway for teens to get into smoking, especially since the liquid comes in a variety of flavors. Forty state attorneys general are calling for a ban on e-cigarette sales to kids and the regulation of e-cigarette marketing.
Once upon a time, Mendelson was a staunch supporter of smokefree workplaces. In fact, he was one of the original supporters on the Council of the smokefree workplace law, back when only three Councilmembers publicly supported the idea.
We are urging Mendelson to amend this new bill to include e-cigarettes, as was intended. Feel the same way? email email@example.com.