Research & Commentary: E-Cigarette ‘Smoking’ Bans

Published November 3, 2014

As electronic cigarettes grow in popularity, state and local governments are finding ways to regulate and tax them. Some jurisdictions have decided e-cigarettes and other vapor products should be covered by city or statewide smoking bans. 

E-cigarettes simulate the physical and psychological act of smoking while eliminating most of the harmful chemicals and smoke found in conventional cigarettes. They work by vaporizing a solution of either propylene glycol or glycerin, flavoring, and usually some low concentration of nicotine. This allows e-cigarette users to take in less nicotine while at the same time eliminating smoke and the health hazards associated with smoking. 

Several studies have found e-cigarettes to be an effective and viable option for smokers seeking a nicotine replacement therapy. The American Association of Public Health Physicians has concluded e-cigarettes “could save the lives of 4 million of the 8 million current adult American smokers who will otherwise die of a tobacco-related illness over the next 20 years.” A 2013 clinical trial in New Zealand showed e-cigarettes are as effective as nicotine patches in helping smokers quit. Another study conducted by the French Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction found about 1 percent of France’s total population had quit smoking using an e-vapor product

The stated goal of including e-cigarettes under a smoking ban is to limit the exposure of bystanders to the toxins that may exist in vapor, the “secondhand” effect. Secondhand e-cigarette vapor, however, has not been found to possess dangerous toxins, only nicotine. One study, conducted in 2013 by an international group of researchers and published in the Oxford Journals found no harmful levels of carcinogens or toxic levels of any chemical in the vapor. Another study released in 2014 by Dr. Igor Burstyn of the Drexel University School of Public Health found, after more than 9,000 observations of e-cigarette liquid and vapor, there is no cause for concern for bystanders from e-cigarette vapor, even under what he called worse-case assumptions about exposure. 

Many opponents of e-cigarette use say they act as a “gateway” product to cigarettes, especially for younger users. The evidence, however, shows otherwise. According to HealthDay, in 2013 Theodore Wagener, an assistant professor of general and community pediatrics at the University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center, studied 1,300 college students with an average age of 19. Only 43 told researchers their first nicotine product was an e-cigarette, and only one of those 43 later switched to traditional cigarettes. In a follow-up survey of these students, most were not using nicotine or tobacco at all.

Extending smoking bans to e-cigarettes and other vapor products is inappropriate and counterproductive. Jeff Stier, a senior fellow at the National Center for Public Policy Research, told Budget & Tax News enacting a ban will do far more harm than good. “There’s no smoke from e-cigarettes, so the ban won’t reduce second-hand exposure. If anything it’ll increase it by causing more people to keep smoking cigarettes, rather than quit by switching to e-cigarettes. And by treating the dramatically less-harmful e-cigarettes like cigarettes, fewer people will be likely to make the switch,” Stier said. 

According to many in the public health community, e-cigarettes are far safer than combustible cigarettes while offering many smokers the best option to quit. Banning the use of electronic cigarettes in private establishments, in addition to excessive regulation and taxation of these products, would be a shortsighted decision that ignores the benefits e-cigarettes can have as a nicotine replacement therapy. 

The following articles examine electronic cigarettes and efforts to regulate their sale and use.

E-Cigarettes Are Making Tobacco Obsolete. So Why Ban Them?
Matt Ridley reports vaping works better than any other method of giving up smoking, and he examines several studies reaching that conclusion. Ridley then asks why, with the success of vaping products, cities are banning them. 

Peering Through the Mist: Systematic Review of what the Chemistry of Contaminants in Electronic Cigarettes Tells Us about Health Risks
Electronic cigarettes (e-cigarettes) are generally recognized as a safer alternative to combusted tobacco products, but there are conflicting claims about the degree to which these products warrant concern for the health of the vapers (e-cigarette users). This paper reviews available data on the chemistry of aerosols and liquids of electronic cigarettes and compares modeled exposure of vapers with occupational safety standards.

Secondhand Exposure to Vapors From Electronic Cigarettes
Electronic cigarettes (commonly referred as e-cigarettes) are designed to generate inhalable nicotine aerosol (vapor). When an e-cigarette user takes a puff, the nicotine solution is heated and the vapor is taken into the lungs. Although no side-stream vapor is generated between puffs, some of the mainstream vapor is exhaled by the e-cigarette user. The aim of this study was to evaluate the secondhand exposure to nicotine and other tobacco-related toxicants from e-cigarettes.

Regulating a Less Unhealthy Cigarette
Michael L. Marlow of the Cato Institute argues the Food and Drug Administration jeopardizes public health by not developing appropriate benefit-cost analysis of a proposed rule. FDA “anticipates,” without quantifying, substantial benefits from reducing harm by regulating e-cigarettes and non-cigarette tobacco products. FDA also does not adequately assess costs that appear likely from its suppression of the e-cigarette market. The evolving literature on e-cigarettes strongly suggests they help smokers quit smoking. 

E-Cigarette Primer for State and Local Lawmakers
Joel Nitzkin provides evidence e-cigarettes work as a tobacco harm reduction modality and reviews the arguments against them. He closes with recommendations for actions state and local lawmakers should and should not consider regarding tobacco harm reduction and e-cigarettes. 

Testimony to the Baltimore Judiciary and Legislative Investigations Committee
Gregory Conley testified before the Baltimore Judiciary and Legislative Investigations Committee on vapor products. He concludes e-cigarette bans “have no basis in toxicology and allowing private businesses to make their own choices on the matter is the best policy at the present time. If usage bans are to be enacted, they should recognize the difference between traditional cigarettes and vapor products by, for example, permitting usage in adult-only establishments.” 

Research & Commentary: Electronic Cigarettes
Heartland Institute Senior Policy Analyst Matthew Glans examines electronic cigarettes, tobacco harm reduction, and various proposals to regulate e-cigarette use. E-cigarettes have become one of the most popular nicotine replacement products and a key building block in tobacco harm reduction strategies.

Studies Show E-Cigarettes Help Smokers Quit
For years, advocates of smoke-free alternatives, such as electronic cigarettes and other e-vapor products, have known these products are effective at helping smokers quit or dramatically reduce their cigarette consumption. Gregory Conley examines several studies that show the value of vapor products in smoking cessation.

The Case Against Smoking Bans
Thomas A. Lambert, an associate professor at the University of Missouri-Columbia School of Law, argues the market is the best place to make decisions on smoking. He writes, “a laissez-faire approach better accommodates heterogeneous preferences regarding public smoking.”

Smoking Bans Cloud Free Market’s Ability to Thrive
The Bluegrass Institute for Public Policy Solutions takes a comprehensive look at smoking bans and concludes the best way to promote a win-win smoking policy is to inform and educate rather than legislate and regulate.

Nothing in this Research & Commentary is intended to influence the passage of legislation, and it does not necessarily represent the views of The Heartland Institute. For further information on this subject, visit Budget & Tax News at, The Heartland Institute’s website at, and PolicyBot, Heartland’s free online research database at

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