The decision of city councilmembers to include e-cigarettes in the upcoming indoor smoking ban is unfair to business owners and customers alike and should be reconsidered.
An Aug. 28 University Star editorial outlined the staff’s concerns with San Marcos’ new ordinance, which will ban smoking in all indoor businesses by June 1, 2014. The ordinance infringes on the rights of business owners, appeared to give an inaccurate representation of The Square’s patrons in city surveys and could be damaging to the local economy.
All of these concerns still stand, but the editorial board does not dispute there are potential public health benefits to a city-wide smoking ban. However, the health benefits of including e-cigarettes in the ban are much less apparent, and it is debatable whether the devices are even harmful at all.
E-cigarettes, which have not been scientifically proven to produce secondhand smoke, offer a healthier and more versatile alternative to traditional cigarettes. For Square regulars who are unwilling or unable to quit smoking, e-cigarettes would have been ideal for a night out without offending other patrons or breaking the new laws. The amendment marginalizes these residents even further, forcing them to make decisions about their personal health that should be left to themselves, not the City of San Marcos.
According to a Sept. 5 Center for Disease Control press release, the agency does not have much information on the components and potentially harmful constituents of e-cigarettes since they are largely unregulated. While further studies and regulations might be necessary before the devices can be widely accepted, they are clearly safer and less offensive than cigarettes, at least for those near smokers.
It is unreasonable for the city councilmembers to justify banning the use of a product that produces no smoke, odor or irritants with unproven health risks. Other products that have proven much more harmful to their users such as alcohol and fried food are completely legal to consume indoors within city limits.
Several shops that sell e-cigarette equipment have opened in San Marcos in the past year. Many owners of these new businesses put their own finances at stake to start their companies, a decision some may not have made if they knew the city councilmembers would be so quick to crack down on their product. Future studies may in fact indicate e-cigarettes are almost as dangerous as real ones—but that outcome seems unlikely, and until scientific evidence can back it up, such a ban is rushed and shortsighted.
A major incentive for smokers to switch to e-cigarettes is that they can be used indoors legally and without offending others. By taking that incentive away, the city councilmembers’ decision not only hurts local businesses, but reduces the chance of smokers switching to an alternative that, though not without potential risks, is safer than inhaling tobacco smoke.
It is unclear who, if anyone at all, will benefit from prohibiting e-cigarettes in public businesses. Bar owners will certainly not benefit from the ordinance and be forced to turn away “vaping”—but paying—customers. Many non-smoking customers, even ones offended by cigarette smoke, would be unaffected by e-cigarettes. Even potential extra revenue the city would gain from fining e-cigarette smokers may not be enough to cover increased enforcement costs.
Put simply, e-cigarettes have opened up new job opportunities and business ventures in San Marcos, in addition to giving smokers a healthier way to continue frequenting their favorite bars and contributing to the local economy without breaking the law. City councilmembers unfairly responded by banning the healthier alternatives to cigarettes, effectively stomping out the rights of smokers.