By Patrick B. McGuigan
OKLAHOMA CITY – Even as the state Legislature debates a range of proposals touching e-cigarettes – or “personal vaporizers” as fans like to call them – a city in eastern Oklahoma is grappling anew with a possible ban on use of the devices on public property.
The Tahlequah City Council discussed a ban ordinance on Monday (March 3), but is not scheduled to vote on it formally until March 24. Council rules require two readings before taking final action.
In an interview with this reporter, Sean Gore, chairman of the Oklahoma Vapor Action League (OVAL) said, “Lumping e-cigarettes in with smoking would be a detrimental step backwards in tobacco harm reduction (THR). E-cigarettes are the largest step forward in THR in the last 50 years.” He said pretty much the same thing in front of the Tahlequah council.
Gore has guided efforts to oppose e-cigarette bans throughout the Sooner State.
Countering assertions of supporters that e-cigarettes are unsafe and related to nicotine poisoning, at the early March meeting Gore provided council members and others in attendance with a thick compilation of academic studies concluding e-cigarettes are far safer than any tobacco products.
Among other examinations of the issue, Gore pointed to a new peer-reviewed investigation of secondhand exposure to e-cig vapors which concluded the devices do not emit significant amounts of harmful vapors, and that for devices that include nicotine (not all e-cigarettes do), “emissions of nicotine from e-cigarettes were significantly lower than those of tobacco cigarettes.” (http://ntr.oxfordjournals.org/)
Supporters of the proposed Tahlequah ordinance included Val Dobbins of BEST (Bringing Everyone’s Strengths Together) and Tes Hardison of the Cherokee County Communities of Excellence Tobacco Control Program, according to a report by Sean Rowley of the Tahlequah Daily Press.
http://www.tahlequahdailypress.com/local/x542463541/New-e-cigarette-ordinance-mulled-at-Tahlequah-council-meeting#sthash.PX08MvbM.dpuf) Previous discussion revealed the state Tobacco Settlement Endowment Trust (TSET) has issued grants financing grass roots efforts to equate e-cigarettes, which do not contain tobacco, with tobacco products.
In an exchange with City Attorney Park Medearis, according to Rowley’s story, Hardison said the proposed ordinance should ban all “smoking” devices, even though there is no flame or burning material in e-cigarettes.
In a separate exchange with the city lawyer, shared with this reporter, Gore countered arguments that users of e-cigarettes should have to “go across the street” to a private space to avoid use of the devices in public buildings.
Gore said the discussion had encouraged him, but that ultimately it was up to Cherokee County residents to stop momentum for the ordinance.
The text of the Tahlequah proposal has been posted online, here (www.scribd.com/doc/209647578/Feb-27-2014-Tahlequah-E-cig-Ban-Ordinance-No-1216-2014-Electronic-Smoking-Devices-Prohibited).
Previous discussion revealed the state Tobacco Settlement Endowment Trust (TSET) has issued grants financing grass roots efforts to equate e-cigarettes, which do not contain tobacco, with tobacco products.
Just before Christmas, Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin, a conservative Republican who often criticizes government regulations and restraints on legal business activities, thrilled state health officials and dismayed vapor advocates when she signed an executive order banning personal use of e-cigarettes on state property.
In October, Tahlequah seemed on the verge of banning electronic smoking devices in public buildings and at local parks (http://watchdog.org/116376/oklahoma-town-steps-away-from-e-cigarette-ban-advocates-of-vaping-cheer/). Mayor Jason Nichols backed away form the proposal after a flurry of grass roots activism in opposition, led by Gore and his allies.
Concern over the TSET grants (http://watchdog.org/119734/bribery-grants-e-cigs-brick-in-the-wall/) became a factor in the previous debate, with many questioning the wisdom or necessity of such a ban. Many Oklahomans have testified they had stopped using tobacco thanks to personal vaporizers, and consider themselves healthier as a result.
In the Legislature, measures to equate e-cigs with tobacco – or to take the contrary position, that they are not tobacco products and should not be treated as such – have been under consideration this year. OVAL supports strict limits on access to e-cigarettes for minors, but Gore and others worry that government officials are deliberately confusing youth and adult use as part of an effort to convert personal vaporizers into a new source of government revenue.
E-cigarettes presently are taxed at the regular sales rate like other products, but are not subjected to the high special taxes imposed on tobacco products of all kinds.