Health officials are opposed, citing unknown risks
Erin Berge on Thursday 01/16/2014 – Ithmus
As Alex Caffentzis exhaled, he carefully hid the water vapor of his electronic cigarette from those sitting near him at the Memorial Union.
“People start to look at you very strange,” says Caffentzis, a 20-year-old student at Madison College.
It’s been more than three years since Wisconsin passed its indoor smoking ban, and locals now find it unusual to see smoke in a public area. It is unclear, however, whether exhaling water vapor from an electronic cigarette in public is illegal.
The Wisconsin indoor smoking ban prohibits smoking any device in public that contains tobacco. But it is silent on whether electronic cigarettes fall under the ban.
Sen. Glenn Grothman (R-West Bend) introduced a bill in December that would allow people to puff e-cigarettes in public by exempting the devices from the state smoking ban.
The bill has been sent to the Senate Judiciary and Labor Committee, which Grothman chairs. The senator says he hopes to hold a public hearing on the bill by late January or early February.
Caffentzis switched from regular cigarettes because he wanted to be able to smoke indoors and not smell from smoke. He says electronic cigarettes also give him more control over the amount of tobacco consumed since the nicotine comes in liquid form.
Four health groups have registered in opposition to SB 440 on the Government Accountability Board’s website: American Cancer Society Action Network, the American Heart Association, the American Lung Association in Wisconsin Inc. and Health First Wisconsin (formerly Smoke Free Wisconsin). No groups have registered in support.
Ryan Sheahan, coordinator for the Tobacco-Free Columbia-Dane County Coalition, says puffing on e-cigarettes is not necessarily a safe alternative to inhaling tobacco smoke.
“The industry likes to use the term ‘harm reduction,’ but it’s really not harm reduction, it’s ‘harm shifting,'” says Sheahan.
Supporters say e-cigarettes can wean smokers off regular cigarettes by providing nicotine stimulation while protecting lungs from tobacco. But Sheahan says electronic cigarettes could just as easily encourage individuals to smoke as help them quit.