By Patrick B. McGuigan
OKLAHOMA CITY – The next big fight over e-cigarettes and other Electronic Smoking Devices may come in the Sooner State’s capital city. The issue is not yet slated for an upcoming agenda, but a veteran member of the city council has asked city staff to prepare for such consideration.
Oklahoma City’s Ward 4 Council Member Pete White contends e-cigarettes are “a tobacco product and another path to addiction.” White said there is no federal Food and Drug Administration regulation of the products. He believes the devices belong in the same category as tobacco. White supports “making it embarrassing for people to use them or tax the heck out of it.”
Tim Farley of the Oklahoma Gazette, Oklahoma City’s weekly alternative newspaper, reported Tuesday evening that White has asked the city’s lawyer, Ken Jordan, to prepare a report on e-cigarettes (www.okgazette.com/oklahoma/article-19823-banned.html).
Last week, the city of Tahlequah, in eastern Oklahoma, backed away from lumping electronic smoking devices (ESDs) in the same category as tobacco (http://watchdog.org/116376/oklahoma-town-steps-away-from-e-cigarette-ban-advocates-of-vaping-cheer/).
An ordinance to ban use of ESDs on public property was pulled from a special city council agenda after critics of the idea organized to support e-cigarettes.
Earlier this year, the towns of Ada and Shawnee banned use of e-cigarettes on public property. The University of Central Oklahoma in Edmond and the University of Oklahoma in Norman have banned the devices on campus, but Oklahoma State University in Stillwater postponed consideration of the issue this fall (http://capitolbeatok.com/reports/vape-activists-seek-tolerance-and-a-less-insane-e-cigarette-ordinance-in-tahlequah-ok).
Defenders of “vaping” say ESDs can help smokers quit or significantly reduce tobacco use. In Tahlequah, advocates of a ban told members of the city council they suggested the ban to city leaders with the encouragement of leaders at the state Tobacco Settlement Endowment Trust (TSET) (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Tznw8SZl5i8&feature=youtu.be).
TSET was created by voter referendum in 2004 to use resources gained through anti-tobacco litigation to promote tobacco cessation strategies.
Some businesses selling e-cigarettes contend they are a useful, and not harmful, means for individuals to reduce tobacco use. Arrayed against those vendors are not only agencies like TSET, but the Robert Woods Johnson Foundation (http://www.rwjf.org/en/blogs/new-public-health/2013/08/recommended_reading1.html) and its allies.
TSET’s moves to take on “vape” products like e-cigarettes has drawn critical scrutiny from several quarters, including Jonathan Small, the policy vice president of the state’s largest free market “think tank,” the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs (OCPA).