Monday, March 10, 2014

Electronic cigarettes ignite passion and prejudice at Wisconsin legislative hearing

At a time when left-leaning big city governments like New York, Chicago and Los Angeles are including e-cigarettes in their smoking bans, Wisconsin State Senator Glenn Grothman and others were hoping to go in a more progressive and free-market direction.

Grothman and a few others show they get it on electronic cigarettes by supporting a bill to exempt them from the statewide tobacco smoking ban in public places. Unfortunately, a minority of nanny-state big government alarmists likely provided just enough doubt or cover for those who don’t get it.

E Cig Werks attended and testified at the March 5 hearing at the State Capitol in Madison, Wis. It was also a convenient trip down memory lane for me as I worked in the Capital back in the mid-1980s, a time when people actually smoked real cigarettes in their offices.

The hearing was a demonstration in the old saying that “there are two things you should never see being made – laws and sausages.”

Several times during the hearing, Grothman explained how his proposal would simply clarify that e-cigs are not part of the smoking ban for businesses like restaurants and taverns, and that businesses could voluntarily ban e-cigs if they so chose.

The first speaker was Vicki McKenna, a conservative Wisconsin radio talk show host and staunch e-cigarette evangelist. McKenna cited her personal experience in using e-cigs to kick a 23-year smoking habit. A strong free-market advocate as you might expect from a conservative, McKenna concluded her remarks saying “electronic cigarettes have the potential to be a public health miracle.”

KristinNoll-Marsh is a fellow blogger who has been a positive e-cigarette voice in Wisconsin for several years. She represents the Consumer Advocates forSmoke-free Alternatives Association (CASAA) and lauded Wisconsin for “doing it right” by proactively seeks to clarify that e-cigs are not subject to the statewide tobacco smoking ban and “not doing knee-jerk legislation based what e-cigs look like.”

Two speakers from the public health lobby were Murray Katcher and Dr. Michael Fiore, both of whom cited more fear of electronic cigarettes’ potential negative health impact than any proven harm or risk. Fiore actually acknowledged that e-cigs are helping smokers quit tobacco and that they have far fewer toxic chemicals. His main point was that e-cigs are at a similar stage at this time as tobacco cigarettes were in the 1960s and ‘70s.

Katcher also strongly advocated the negative health impact potential of e-cigs, especially for children through second-hand smoke. However, Grothman’s bill is essentially focused on Wisconsin taverns and restaurants, so hopefully that would affect many children. Although, this is Wisconsin.

While I hadn’t originally planned to testify at the hearing, the testimony and atmosphere got me worked up enough to speak. I scrawled a few notes and focused on my blogging experience and the key messages that e-cigs help consumers avoid tobacco, odor and second-hand smoke while reducing nicotine. When Grothman asked me how much I thought e-cigs reduced harmful toxins, I just pointed to the previous testimony from the health experts.

Following another compelling personal story about how e-cigs helped kick a 30-year smoking habit from a Sheboygan, Wis., resident, and a more technical and detailed presentation on the quality of e-cigs from Don Muehlbauer of Securience,LLC, in Wauwatosa, Wis., things went a stranger direction.

An apparent Capitol staffer told a heart-wrenching story about his mother dying after cancer after years of tobacco smoking and referred to e-cigarettes as “a baby death product.” While anyone would empathize with those sentiments and emotion, they really weren’t relevant to the subject of the bill, which was letting private businesses decide if they want to permit the use of e-cigarettes.

Greg Conley of the Heartland Institute then noted a variety of studies supporting the argument that e-cigs have far less toxins than traditional cigarettes, but Wisconsin Senator Fred Risser fixated like a laser on the notion that e-cigs, to which he several times referred to as “emails,” would only attract young people and new users. Conley countered that most e-cig marketing is focused on cigarette smokers and not toward young people.

As the Wisconsin legislative session winds down, it seems unlikely they will even vote on the e-cig bill, much less pass it on to Gov. Scott Walker for a signature. However, at least the public hearings give both sides of the e-cig issue a chance to be heard, and hopefully reason and logic will prevail over fear-mongering and emotion.

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