Multnomah County misleads bar owners

As a follow-up to my article in yesterday’s Oregonian about the failed attempt to include e-cigarettes in the state’s smoking ban, today I’m posting a memo Multnomah County officials have sent to local bars and restaurants. In it, they mislead business owners about the dangers of e-cigarettes, telling them:

State law does not currently prevent the use of e-cigs; however business owners are encouraged to include e-cigs in no-smoking policies. E-cigs pose serious health risks and challenges to enforcement of the Smokefree Workplace Law as it appears people are smoking indoors.

The letter then recommends that businesses include e-cigarettes in their no-smoking policies, adopt completely smokefree outdoor dining areas, and adopt a completely tobacco-free policy for their entire properties. (Here’s a PDF of the memo.)

There are valid reasons why a bar or restaurants might ban the use of e-cigs, such as the fact that some guests find them annoying. But county officials’ claim that the devices pose “serious health risks” is completely unsubstantiated. There’s not even much evidence that e-cigarettes are dangerous for users, much less for bystanders exposed to vapor secondhand.

There have been two recent studies on exposure to e-cigarettes in realistic indoor conditions. They are summarized here and here. Conclusion of the first:

… the quality and quantity of chemicals released in the environment [by vaping] are by far less harmful for the human health compared to regular tobacco cigarettes. Evaporation instead of burning, absence of several harmful chemicals from the liquids and absence of sidestream smoking from the use of the e-CIG are probable reasons for the difference in results.

And the second:

The study showed that e-cigarettes are a source of secondhand exposure to nicotine but not to combustion toxicants… Using an e-cigarette in indoor environments may involuntarily expose nonusers to nicotine but not to toxic tobacco-specific combustion products.

Even in the case of nicotine, exposure from real cigarettes was ten times higher than that from e-cigarettes.

Those are studies of indoor use. Multnomah County’s advice is to ban them outdoors too. The idea that indoor e-cigarette use could be harmful to bystanders is at least worthy of investigation, although the evidence so far is that it’s nothing to worry about. The idea that outdoor use presents serious health risks is wildly implausible.

This is yet another example of how the crusade against e-cigarettes is driven by unscientific alarmism rather than any empirical evidence of danger. County officials have shown that they have no credibility on the issue by misleading local business owners about the alleged risks.


2 thoughts on “Multnomah County misleads bar owners”

  1. I don’t let people smoke e-cigs in my bar. Not only are the potential risks by and large unknown, and not only do some people find them annoying, but I personally find them annoying. I don’t like the smell, I don’t like the appearance they give the bar and most of all I hate the smug look a customer gets on her face when she smokes one inside, like she’s getting away with something. Plus, how hard is it to go outside like everyone else does?

  2. Jacob, thanks for this article! I was not aware of the Romagna and Flouras studies. Siegel’s analysis showing the ZERO levels of detection of any elements of concern in a real world environment is telling!

    Chris, thank you for voicing what I am sure is a good bit of what’s behind the efforts aimed at vaping: “most of all I hate the smug look a customer gets on her face when she smokes one inside,” It’s not so much the health concerns or the silly claims that “we can’t tell if they’re smoking or vaping,” but simple anger at the fact that people seem to be enjoying themselves and “getting around” the smoking ban.

    Your point about the “potential risks” being “unknown” is interesting. Since there have been a fair number of studies done to this date on what is produced by e-cigs and since none of them have come even close to showing any levels of any chemicals of “risk” in the air of normal environments where vaping might take place, how can you say they are “unknown”? It seems pretty clear that they ARE known…. and they are known to be, for any practical purposes and meanings of the words, zero.

    Do you feel you have evidence to the contrary that would move the “risks” back into “unknown” territory? If so, would you please cite the sources?

    – MJM

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