Smokefree DC is a citizen-based group whose goal is to promote smokefree environments in Washington, DC.

Smokefree DC urges D.C. Council to regulate e-cigarettes


Smoke from an e-cig

Little did I know when I testified before the D.C. Committee on Health this week about the need to regulate e-cigarettes that I was sitting next to a convicted felon.

Bruce Bereano, representing the Maryland Association of Tobacco and Candy Distributors, sat next to me on the first panel. He was pompous and pugnacious, and he made some absolutely ludicrous statements.

(Earlier this year, Bereano lost an attempt to overturn his 1994 fraud conviction. He falsely billed clients, then gave the money to politicians via his political action committee. He was sentenced to five months in prison and five months in home detention, and was fined $30,000. Despite this, and the fact that he was stripped of his law license, he is still considered a powerful lobbyist in Annapolis. Go figure.)

The bill we were there to speak about was the Electronic Cigarette Parity Amendment Act of 2013 (B20-233), introduced by Councilmembers Yvette Alexander (D-Ward 7) and David Grosso (D-At-Large). The idea is to treat e-cigarettes like other tobacco products – restrict their sales to minors, ensure they won’t be used in smokefree areas and so forth. It’s a great idea, and we applaud Alexander and Grosso for introducing it.

In my testimony, I made three points: The health effects on nonsmokers of the vapor emitted by e-cigarettes are unknown; e-cigarette use in smokefree venues will cause confusion and could weaken the city’s very popular and effective smokefree workplace law; and e-cigarettes are being regulated by other jurisdictions throughout the country.

Bereano and I both agreed on one thing: the jury is still out as to what’s in the visible vapor emitted by e-cigarettes. That’s about all we agreed on. He and other e-cigarette proponents think that if e-cigarettes haven’t been proven unsafe, then they should be permitted everywhere.

That’s just wrong.

Smokefree DC urges the Council to follow the precautionary principle, which says that something shouldn’t be unleashed on the public until it has been proven safe. Why make people into guinea pigs? It’s not a good idea.

We do know that in 2009, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued a warning about e-cigarettes, saying that a laboratory analysis found they contain carcinogens and toxic chemicals including diethylene glycol, which is found in antifreeze. The agency said that it “is concerned about the safety of these products.”

The second point I made in my testimony is that e-cigarette use in smokefree areas will cause confusion over whether smoking is or isn’t allowed. The tobacco industry calls it “vapor,” but it looks like cigarette smoke and smells like it as well. As I told the committee, if someone pulls out something that looks like a cigarette, puts it in their mouth, and something that looks like smoke comes out of their mouth, then it will appear that the person is smoking a cigarette.

The FDA is still figuring out whether and how to regulate e-cigarettes. In the meantime, policymakers throughout the country are beginning to restrict their use.

You can read more about Thursday hearing in this Washington Post story.

Unfortunately, Alexander said at the end of the hearing that she is going to wait for the FDA to act before pressing forward with her bill.

We hope she changes her mind. The measure should be implemented before e-cigarette use becomes a problem.



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