Have you seen an electronic cigarette yet? They look like a cigarette, and contain a cartridge with a nicotine-laced liquid vaporized by a heating element and inhaled by the user. They're flooding the market, promoted on late-night TV as a healthier alternative to cigarettes, and a way to go on getting a nicotine fix in smoke-free areas.
So: are they good for you? Bad for you? Only the guy who owns the proprietary research knows for sure, and in many cases, the tobacco industry owns him.
After years of work getting almost half the country protected from secondhand tobacco smoke in workplaces, e-cigarette promoters want us to let the guy in the next cubicle exhaling toxic diethylene glycol and nicotine go right ahead because it's not technically a cigarette.
The problem is that the emissions are still toxic: the nicotine e-cigarettes leave behind interacts with nitrous acid — a common component of indoor air. Nicotine is a sticky, addictive substance that remains on surfaces for weeks, so the hazardous carcinogens continue to be created over time, and then inhaled, absorbed or ingested. At least one brand is honest enough to caution the user that nicotine "causes birth defects or other reproductive harm."
If you think the tobacco industry's interest in e-cigarettes means they're now in the public health business, you might want to reconsider in the light of their 2006 federal conviction for racketeering and conspiracy to deceive the American public and target children with deadly and addictive products.
We've worked hard for the few protections we have from involuntary exposure to toxic products. Don't let the tobacco industry sidestep our protections and hook another generation through gimmicks and false advertising. Hang on tight to the protections we have from involuntary nicotine and tobacco exposure and stand up for clean air.
With a Perspective, this is Carol Denney.
Carol Denney is a writer, musician and activist in Berkeley.