In recent months, we’ve seen a rising trend among American cities that are banning e-cigarettes from public places. Despite dozens of research studies showing that e-cig vapor poses no real risks, many cities are moving forward with plans to outlaw electronic smoking devices. So what is the real motivation behind the new bans? After doing a little digging, it appears that it all boils down to cold hard cash.
According to the Oklahoma Watchdog, e-cig users in the city of Tahlequah are facing a major battle against anti-tobacco groups to maintain their rights to continue vaping. The city is currently considering a new ordinance that would ban the use of tobacco products on any city property, whether indoors or outdoors. The drafted ordinances include e-cigarettes as part of the tobacco ban and it has started major controversy among local residents.
Sean Gore, chairman of the Oklahoma Vapor Advocacy League told reporters that his association has spent hours working with city officials to negotiate a change in the ordinance language. Gore said his league has proposed banning the sale of electronic smoking devices to minors, but allowing free use by adults.
CASAA’s legislative director Gregory Conley recently spoke out about the disturbing e-cig ban. “They started out with a very flawed ordinance in Tahlequah. It could have been interpreted to ban even the private use of electronic smoking devices within city limits,” he said.
During the November 4 city council meeting, new information was presented that is very disturbing to e-cig users around the country. Apparently, the Oklahoma Tobacco Settlement Endowment Trust (TSET) is applying heavy pressure on city officials to include e-cigarettes in the new tobacco bans.
Val Dobbins, chairman of the county program, revealed that TSET actually sent out the ordinances and “they ask us to propose (them) in the cities.” In order for a city to be certified as healthy and ranked as “excellent” in health indicator rankings, TSET required that the cities include electronic smoking devices in all ordinances that pertain to tobacco use. But the stakes go much higher than simple health certifications.
There is also money at stake… a lot of money. TSET is applying major pressure on cities to include e-cigs in tobacco bans by leveraging the prospect of new grants worth $42,000. However, the grants might not be the only monetary incentive for cities that go forward with e-cig bans. John Yeutter, a certified public accountant and an associate professor of accounting from Northeastern State University, recently revealed that the county’s online reports show TSET grants totally nearly $147,000 in 2012.
“It’s alarming, their use of taxpayer dollars to influence citizens and local communities into banning safe and effective alternatives to tradition smoking products,” said Jonathan Small, vice president for policy at the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs. “Their recent actions demonizing and profiling e-cigarettes are yet more evidence of the need for strict oversight and a complete overhaul of TSET and its activities.”
Gore spoke out against the questionable actions of TSET at the November 4 City Council meeting, reminding those in attendance that banning e-cigs was not reasonable, but was all about money. “This has nothing to do with health,” he argued. “What happens to these health organizations? They lose their funding.”
Mayor Jason Nichols seems to be approaching the issue with a level head. He told the Cherokee County Republican Activists that although he is “not a fan of tobacco”, this was an unrelated issue. He pointed out that there was not any sufficient research to show that electronic cigarettes are posing any threat and he advocated that Oklahoma residents have the right to use e-cigs, “in the absence of harm to anyone else”.
This scenario could potentially explain why so many American cities are moving forward with irrational regulations on electronic smoking devices. While vaping activists are often successful at overturning bans and preventing them from ever taking place, this is a much more dangerous battle than many previously understood. It seems that tobacco activists are leveraging all of their financial resources to accomplish their agendas, no matter what the cost might be to public health.
Are you surprised to learn that TSET is using grant money to apply pressure for new anti-vaping ordinances?