If it looks like a duck and quacks like a duck, the old saying goes, then it might just be a duck. Such is the reasoning behind a series of state and local regulations enacted in the final month of 2013 that treat electronic cigarettes just like regular smokes.
Right before Christmas, Oklahoma Governor Mary Fallin issued an executive order, effective Jan. 1, barring the use of e-cigarettes on state-owned property. Earlier in December, the Los Angeles city council voted to license e-cig vendors and prohibit e-cig sales in self-service displays. And in one of the strongest moves yet against the increasingly popular tobacco product, the New York city council extended the city’s strict ban on smoking in public places to e-cigs. Chicago is considering a similar measure. Utah, New Jersey and North Dakota have all passed legislation prohibiting e-cigs wherever regular smoking is banned, and many other states are weighing their own regulations.
Why the flurry of new laws? There are no federal rules on e-cigs, which work by emitting a vaporized nicotine solution and have become a popular alternative for smokers looking to quit. Lawmakers say the vapor looks like smoke, weakening social pressure to enforce existing smoking bans, and that nicotine and other chemicals in the vapor could be harmful to breathe in secondhand. A recent study published in the journal Nicotine and Tobacco Research found that e-cigarettes are a source of secondhand exposure to nicotine. But e-cig supporters caution that there is not enough available information about the health effects to draw conclusions.
The Food and Drug Administration has been weighing how to handle e-cigs and promising action for months. In September, 40 state attorneys general urged the FDA to regulate the sale and advertising of e-cigs, and observers expect that regulations could come early in 2014. Until that happens, local lawmakers will likely continue taking matters into their own hands.
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