Illogical Tobacco Bans Harm Rather than Protect the Public

No smoking

(Istockphoto)

Two facts about tobacco use are undisputed:

1.  Smoking tobacco kills people.

2. About 9 out of 10 people who try to quit smoking fail.

Given these grim facts reported by the American Cancer Society, you'd think that government policymakers and health professionals would rally to support any and all efforts to reduce the harm caused by smoking cigarettes.  But reduced-harm alternatives to smoking tend to get ignored or crushed.

In November, for example, the town of Newton GA passed an ordinance to “prohibit tobacco use in all indoor and outdoor parks and recreational facilities at all times.” according to an article in the Covington News.

Where's the Smoke?

Tom Hailey, the  city's recreation director, said the ordinance would make it possible for people to “enjoy our parks without having to worry about the harmful effects of any tobacco products on children whose lungs and bodies are still developing.”

The ordinance seems to make sense until you learn that it also includes smoke-free forms of tobacco, such as nicotine lozenges, and smoke-free and tobacco-free products, such as electronic cigarettes.

How would sucking on a lozenge or using a tobacco-free electronic cigarette harm the lungs of children — or adults?

Ban Poppy Seed Muffins and Vanilla Ice Cream?

If you extend the so-called logic behind the ordinance — that all forms of nicotine present a public health threat — then lots of things should be banned from parks and public places.

Heroin is a dangerous, illegal drug.  Users aren't — and shouldn't be — allowed to shoot up in parks.  But if any form of nicotine is banned from parks, then shouldn't any form of heroin also be?  Should we also ban cities from growing poppy flowers in their parks?  Or make it illegal to consume poppy seed muffins or bagels in public places?

Many municipalities ban the use of alcohol in parks.  If the same reasoning is applied to alcohol as it is to nicotine, should children be banned from eating vanilla ice cream in parks?  There is, after all, alcohol, in that vanilla flavoring.

Punish or Protect?

Wide-sweeping legislation, such as the bans passed in Newton and other cities, seems aimed more at punishing smokers than in protecting the public.  If we provide no legal alternatives to smoking in public, people will continue to smoke in public.  There is simply no way to keep 46.6 million smokers  locked inside their own homes or cars at all times.

We can't protect the public from the dangers of secondhand smoke unless we provide smokers an alternative to smoking tobacco cigarettes.

Limited Support

Fortunately, there are some efforts to enlighten the public and the public policymakers about this.

Two non-profit organizations — Consumer Advocates for Smoke-Free Alternatives Association and Tobacco Harm Reduction — have recently merged to strengthen their efforts toward research, education and lobbying.

“Smoking, not nicotine and tobacco, is the public health problem and… the current federal government obsession with tobacco and nicotine abstinence is an utter failure,” wrote Brad Rodu, a professor of medicine at the University of Louisville who holds an endowed chair in tobacco harm reduction research.

Rodu argues that the FDA should provide “truthful information about the comparative risks of all tobacco products and…implement sensible regulations that would enhance smokers' awareness of and access to vastly safer and satisfying cigarette substitutes that are already on the market.”

Rodu chides the FDA for failing to review applications for new smoke-free products, saying the agency is the cause of a “public health tragedy” by “assuring continued market domination of (tobacco cigarettes) the deadliest of nicotine delivery systems.”