San Francisco elected officials and health leaders have met the enemy, and it is electronic cigarettes.
Flush from their legislative victory in City Hall over e-cigarettes -- which are now regulated in the same way normal tobacco cigarettes are (banned in many places) -- city officials are now spreading the word to all who will listen: e-cigarettes are bad. Very, very bad.
Spurred on by researchers from the University of California, San Francisco who say vapes have some of the same toxins as a Virginia Slim, riders on Muni and BART will soon see ads spelling it out: kids can buy enticing e-cigarettes without ID, the aerosols that deliver the nicotine hit contain toxins, and e-cigarettes don't help people drop the tobacco habit.
Of course, not every researcher agrees. And in fact, the federal government isn't quite on board, either.
E-cigarettes clearly have some allure to our youth. Easily pocketed and hard to detect (they don't stink, after all), tobacco vaporizers also come in delicious, child-like flavors such as bubblegum and watermelon and gym socks (or whatever it is kids like to smell). Cannabis vaporizers present the same problem, for what it's worth, but city officials insist that weed vapes will be treated differently.
That remains to be seen. What is clear right now is that the city establishment is getting behind e-cigarette regulation and pushing Richmond District Supervisor Eric Mar's e-regulation as a model to follow.
The regulations aren't so onerous, at first blush. Retailers wishing to sell them now need a tobacco retailer license, which costs a couple hundred dollars, and e-cigarette users have to go outside to vape up, and can't puff at work, on a bus, at a bar or in a park.
The big reason behind the e-cigarette push appears to be the kids, whose use of e-cigs doubled in recent years. Only one out of 11 "youth advocates" who went to go buy e-cigs got asked for ID, according to the Department of Public Health.
UCSF goes one step further and asserts that while long-term effects of e-cigarettes are "unknown," the aerosols they contain "can be a source of indoor air pollution," thereby presenting a risk similar to that of second-hand tobacco smoke.
Researchers there also dispute industry claims that e-cigarettes help smokers to quit using tobacco.
These findings are going to be included in the messaging to hit Muni and BART in the near future, informing citizens of the new e-cigarette regulations, according to a DPH which will publicly discuss this campaign later today. The problem is, these findings are by no means conclusive. Some researchers disagree.
A January study conducted by a researcher at Philadelphia's Drexel University found that e-cigarettes "pose no apparent concern" to bystanders. IN other words, they could not find an issue with secondhand smoke.
The National Institutes of Health, who are not freewheeling advocates of putting whatever you please into your body, also doesn't agree with UCSF's findings. NIH says that the "bottom line is we just don't know enough about e-cigs," according to the e-cig entry on smokefree.gov. But NIH isn't the City and County of San Francisco, which has made up its mind and is now going to set about making up yours.