Last Thursday, King County's Board of Health (BOH) banned the use of odorless, water vapor-emitting electronic cigarettes in all public places covered under the state smoking ban (restaurants and bars, and within 25 feet from their entrances). The BOH is tasked with setting public health policy, carrying out health regulations, and performing other duties required by state law.
I shit all over the decision on Friday, even though it's a done deal (unless the ban is legally challenged or the BOH elects to revoke it). Slog reader J. David Lawrence, a self-proclaimed e-cig evangelist, wrote in to agree with me. He wants King County residents to get informed about the issue and perhaps help him pressure every person on the 10-member BOH to resign. Here's Lawrence's most interesting snippet:
If I am driving down the freeway, and I see the guy next me drinking a beer, I do not think to myself “Well, somebody somewhere must’ve passed a law making drinking and driving legal, maybe I‘ll pull off and get myself a beer for the rest of my commute….” I know that drinking and driving is illegal. I know that the man next to me is breaking the law. I have an obligation to call the police and report him. So why should e-cig users be denied on the basis that it may encourage others to break the law? Why should I be held responsible for the choices others make? This is quite possibly the most ridiculous assertion I have ever heard. If someone chooses to break a law, it is their problem and they must bear the consequences, my rights should not be limited because something I do, might be misinterpreted by an otherwise uninterested 3rd party.
Full letter after the jump—take a deep breath, it's a bit long winded.
I began this article by slicing and dicing all the garbage contained in the recently-released notes from the BOH meeting in regards to the use of electronic cigarettes. The more I read it, the more amazed I became, that something so important, something with so much potential to drastically improve long term county health outcomes, something so dangerous to big tobacco, big pharma, and to the only other dependable revenue-stream in the state besides liquor taxes, was so quickly disposed of, in such a suspicious manner.
I am a recent e-cig convert, and in all honesty, if Seattle or the state allowed its citizens to become informed about the nuts and bolts of e-cigs, and decide for themselves how they should be treated within the context of the law, I would have no problem with an outcome identical to the joke the King County Board of Health decried last week. What I do have a problem with is the broad speculation and misrepresentation proffered by the board.
Regardless of how anyone feels one way on the other about this amendment, the BOH did us all a great disservice by holding this particular meeting, outside of their regular schedule. Due to this fact, certain senior members were not in attendance, and in their absence, the votes of other members were “weighted” 2:1, skewing the results, and undermining the credibility of the ruling. Basically, there were 8 members on what should’ve been a 10 member board, the vote was split 4 to 4, but two of the votes for the ban were weighted, resulting in 6 to 4 decision for the passage of the proposal.
Yet The King County Board of Health website claims the vote was “unanimous.” How is a 4 to 4 split, skewed by opportunists unanimous?
[Editor's note: King County Public Health spokeswoman Katie Ross said that the meeting was only irregular in the sense that it had to be moved to the morning from the afternoon because of a scheduling conflict and that the split vote was on an amendment, not the full, new regulation... on which the vote was unanimous.]
I must be some kind of rabid idealist.
To begin with, I’ll state my own point of view, and it’s one I believe many e-cig users share:
-I do not want e-cigs marketed towards or sold to minors. Period. Thank you BOH.
-I do not have any issue with discounted or free starter packages, even though they are often a bad deal from a consumer perspective. If it helps you quit smoking, I don’t care how you come by it.
-I do not believe the BOH or any other branch of government has the right to tack on amendments to a bill that the legislature itself was too cowardly to write, and could only be passed by initiative.
-I do not demand that I be allowed to use my personal vaporizer everywhere, but that where it can be used be the decision of the owners of private property.
Since it’s been so many years since we first outlawed indoor smoking (yes, I voted for it) I first want to remind everyone why we outlawed it:
Findings — Intent — 2006 c 2 (Initiative Measure No. 901).
The people of the state of Washington recognize that exposure to secondhand smoke is known to cause cancer in humans. Secondhand smoke is a known cause of other diseases including pneumonia, asthma, bronchitis, and heart disease. Citizens are often exposed to secondhand smoke in the workplace, and are likely to develop chronic, potentially fatal diseases as a result of such exposure. In order to protect the health and welfare of all citizens, including workers in their places of employment, it is necessary to prohibit smoking in public places and workplaces.
[2006 c 2 § 1 (Initiative Measure No. 901, approved November 8, 2005).]
In short, we were all intelligent enough to recognize that burning tobacco, causes smoke, which causes lung cancer, and heart disease among its many attributes (regardless of whether or not any segment of the tobacco industry will admit this). Yet as of last week, we have also now banned a device which creates no smoke, because it burns nothing, and which contains no tobacco and is therefore not even remotely relevant to the law as it is written.
And we have banned it because the BOH wishes to “protect social norms.”
This is a peculiar statement, for one, because they are not the “board of social norms", and I don’t believe they have any jurisdiction over such things. Their primary fear is that the public usage of e-cigs, will lead to greater incidences of regular smoker violating the law because they see someone using a vaporizer…….and I just can’t leave this one alone.
If I am driving down the freeway, and I see the guy next me drinking a beer, I do not think to myself “Well, somebody somewhere must’ve passed a law making drinking and driving legal, maybe I‘ll pull off and get myself a beer for the rest of my commute….” I know that drinking and driving is illegal. I know that the man next to me is breaking the law. I have an obligation to call the police and report him. So why should e-cig users be denied on the basis that it may encourage others to break the law? Why should I be held responsible for the choices others make? This is quite possibly the most ridiculous assertion I have ever heard. If someone chooses to break a law, it is their problem and they must bear the consequences, my rights should not be limited because something I do, might be misinterpreted by an otherwise uninterested 3rd party .
So the whole thing about it “looks like smoking, and so other real smokers may light up” is bollocks.
Get a real argument BOH, or better yet, just resign.
Lastly, as a recent e-cig convert, I feel compelled to evangelize, and would love nothing more than to go on forever about all the wondrous merits of e-cigarettes, how they have changed my life and how much money I’m saving in these tight times, but what I really want to achieve with this article, is not to convince you, the reader that I am right and the King County BOH is wrong.
What I want to convince you of, is that there is plenty of reason to distrust the means by which the BOH has handled this so far, that there is plenty of information readily available on the subject of e-cigarettes, and that you the voter are more than capable of deciding for yourself how these devices should be treated under the law.
What I am prodding you to do, King County, is to get informed.
Because I know the facts are on my side.