A bill would exempt electronic cigarettes from the statewide indoor smoking ban adopted in 2010, allowing people to smoke e-cigarettes in areas such as bars, restaurants and lodging establishments.
Sen. Glenn Grothman, R-West Bend, the bill’s author, said it is doubtful that the bill would be taken up before the end of this legislative session, but he predicted it would pass without much opposition in the next session, after this fall’s elections.
“I don’t know about any action this year, but I’d be surprised if it doesn’t pass next year,” Grothman said.
Several health organizations have spoken out against the bill, including the American Heart Association and Health First Wisconsin, saying the health concerns of e-cigarettes are still unclear.
A central concern of the organizations is that the bill would only serve as a state endorsement of e-cigarettes as a safe alternative to conventional cigarettes, Chris Kline, government relations director for the American Heart Association, said.
“E-cigarettes are already exempt from the statewide smoke free law, so the bill wouldn’t change anything in law at all other than to send the message that the state of Wisconsin’s Legislature thinks that these are safe,” Kline said.
Grothman said the bill would help to address the ambiguity regarding the use of e-cigarettes in public spaces and said they are an effective means to quit smoking conventional cigarettes.
As the popularity of e-cigarettes rises, studies from the World Health Organization have shown major increases in e-cigarette use among people of age and minors.
A study from Legacy Health showed e-cigarette use among middle school and high school students increased from 3.3 percent in 2011 to 6.8 percent in 2012. Most of these students were smoking conventional cigarettes in combination with e-cigarettes, the study said.
“There’s a dramatically increasing number of children who are starting to use e-cigarettes, so there’s a concern that they might serve as a gateway to using nicotine,” Dr. Michael Fiore, tobacco expert and founder of the University of Wisconsin Center for Tobacco Research and Intervention, said.
Another concern raised by public health advocated involves the lack of regulation and transparency in the production of e-cigarettes.
According to the World Health Organization, many e-cigarettes have been found to contain propylene glycol, which is a respiratory irritant.
“There are more than 250 different brands of e-cigarettes out there. Many of them are from foreign countries, including China, and most of them are available on the net,” Fiore said. “There’s no quality control with these small manufacturers, and for that reason, as with virtually every aspect of e-cigarettes, we just don’t know.”
Fiore said while there is a general consensus among health experts that e-cigarettes are better for one’s health than smoking conventional cigarettes, he said this doesn’t necessarily mean they are entirely safe.
Fiore said the FDA is preparing to take targeted action regarding e-cigarettes and will likely release some guidance on their health effects within the next year.