By Shawn McCarthy
Over the summer, California State Senator Mark Leno pushed for a law that would have designated all electronic cigarettes as tobacco products. Leno—apparently unphased by the fact that there is no tobacco in vaping liquids—was continuing a fight he started a year prior. Fortunately for vapers, and for common sense, the bill he pushed was gutted and hung out to dry in July.
Undeterred, California declared its “Second Extraordinary Session on Public Health,” which began in mid-August. The session focused on the traditional anti-analog cigarette proposals that California is well known for, but included a couple of bills that would have restricted vaping in many public places (including bars and restaurants), much like traditional cigarettes are restricted. Other proposals would have increased tax on analogs, allowed local governments to apply their own taxes and would have raised the smoking age to 21.
All of the anti-tobacco bills—including the bills dealing with vaping— remained stalled as the “extraordinary” session came to an unspectacular close. According to the Los Angeles Times, the bills are not expected to be considered again until next year.
When it comes to nanny-state shenanigans, the whole nation seems to take its cues from California, so this war on tobacco harm reduction impacts us all. These bills will undoubtedly rise from the dead next year and will make yet another charge at the freedoms of vapers in the Golden State, and beyond.
Countless studies showing the comparative safety of vaping versus smoking and a revolutionary common-sense approach to vaping devices from our friends across the pond do not seem to have any impact on the zeal of certain folks to treat e-cigarettes as a different bullet from the tobacco gun—just as deadly as conventional cigarettes.
Leno is a state senator in California’s 11th district, which is centered in the heart of San Francisco’s Bay Area. He was born in Milwaukee, Wis., but has lived in the San Francisco area since the late ‘70s. He is known as a champion for the LGBT community, medical marijuana users and introduced the first “passenger’s bill of rights,” protecting airline passengers from neglect by airlines.
In spite of all his work fighting for the disenfranchised and defenseless, Leno seems to have no issue persecuting another class of citizens based on wrongheaded opinions that are as deeply rooted in ignorance as the general opposition to the LGBT community that he fights so strongly for and is openly a part of.
Leno is immune to inconvenient facts. He told the Reuters News Service, “Whether you get people hooked on e-cigarettes or regular cigarettes, it’s nicotine addiction and it kills. We’re going to see hundreds of thousands of family members and friends die from e-cigarette use, just like we did from traditional tobacco use.”
We know that nicotine is not a killer, and that it holds recently discovered pharmaceutical applications.
We know that nicotine is not as addictive when divorced from the hundreds of carcinogens in combusted tobacco. We know that studies have shown vaping to be much safer than traditional cigarettes.
We know these things because we inform ourselves. Apparently, the only study Leno has taken the time to read is the infamous “formaldehyde” study, where they found significant levels of toxins in e-cigarette emissions—only after they went nuclear on the vaporizer and ran it at temperatures not even the most committed masochist would consider.
Maybe Leno is such a committed zealot that he cannot even see the facts before him. Maybe he is convinced that the plethora of evidence to the contrary of his stance is the result of some welloiled propaganda machine. Or, maybe he simply does not care.
Among the bills considered during that special session was a $2 per pack increase on cigarette taxes. That is a lot of extra revenue. Supporters estimated that it would generate $1.5 billion in additional revenue, which was expected to be funneled to Medi Cal, the California healthcare system that provides services to low-income families. Putting vaping in the same stinky pot as cigarettes might protect that revenue.
Also of note is that Leno receives donations from several big pharmaceutical companies that peddle various “approved” smoking cessation products, all with pathetically low success rates.
But, if Leno were truly looking out for the health and well-being of Californians, he would heed the advice given to the World Health Organization by several experts who advised embracing vaping as part of a tobacco harm reduction strategy. The increased health of those low-income Californians might save some of Medi-Cal’s money and make up for a little of that lost revenue.
I point this out not only because of California’s trend-setting ways in terms of all things related to tobacco policy, but also because there are probably Mark Lenos in your state as well. Regardless of whether their motivations are misplaced good intentions or something more nefarious, they are going to do everything they can to erode your right to vape. California—a state with several local vaping bans and a state in which many residents cannot even smoke in their own apartments—will eventually fall. When it does, it will give all the other Mark Lenos the United States a stepping stone toward their own bans.
That is why you need to know who Mark Leno is and what he is about. And, you need to find out who your state’s Mark Lenos are and research them. Then reach out to them. Establish a dialogue. Avoid preprinted letters (aides will often “file” such letters in the recycle bin) if you can, and put something together yourself. Tell your story.
Force them to be informed by peppering them with actual facts and reputable studies. They can ignore a few letters, but it gets harder to ignore hundreds; eventually, they will have an aide look into it, and if they are genuine, it may sway them. Talk to your local vape shop owners. Find out who the friendly politicians are in your area, and reach out to them, too. Arm them with your personal testimony.
Looking outside California, on the more immediate horizon, the FDA is proposing new restrictions that would put most vape shops out of business by requiring costly approval for all liquids and devices currently on the market. Their website lists “Adverse Event Reports for e-Cigarettes,” including pneumonia and congestive heart failure. Local politicians are not going to be able to fight that, so reach out to your congressmen and senators as well.
You know that they are going to hear the other side eventually. Make sure they hear our side, too.
We can’t win if we don’t fight. Get involved. Stay informed.
Shawn McCarthy is a political junkie and grassroots activist turned Vaping Freedom Fighter. He has been a smoke- free vaper for more than a year and a half.