For or Against? E-Cigs Arrive Everywhere

You'd think that something that satisfied people while downplaying health risks would be a good thing.  But establishments from workplaces to hospitals to restaurants are saying, not so much.

We're talking, of course, about e-cigarettes, or e-cigs, as they're called in the trade.  I write for a food blog, and restaurants are very concerned about pleasing some guests while not unsettling others who don't want to see smoke or a mist being puffed over other diners' heads. Some restaurants are going the way of the original cigarette, banning them entirely, while others are giving it a try, and allowing it.

The draw is that e-cigs emit only water vapor so there's no toxic secondhand smoke.  They do contain nicotene but that's only inhaled by the smoker.  E-cigarette users call it "vaping."  And e--cigs come in all flavors.

"I blow out a Bavarian cream vape, and it smells like Christmas at grandma's house," The Wall Street Journal quotes one vaper.

The Journal today weighed in on the issues surrounding these new smoking devices in the workplace. "Vaping at work is, so far, a hazy issue for most workers and their employers. While companies want to support workers' efforts to quit smoking, they are unsure about inviting staff to flick on the battery-powered e-cigarettes in the office," write Lauren Weber and Mike Esterl.

They note that Exxon Mobil Corp. allows vaping in smoking areas, while CVS Caremark Corp. bars workers from using regular or e-cigarettes at its corporate campuses. They add that e-cigarettes aren't allowed for customers or workers at Starbucks Corp. and Wal-Mart Stores Inc., but vapers—both patrons and workers—are welcome at McDonald's Corp. restaurants. Finally, United Parcel Service Inc., which charges nonunion tobacco users $150 extra in monthly insurance premiums, opted to make e-cigarette users pay the higher price, too.

Twenty-four states and the District of Columbia ban smoking in the workplace, but only three—New Jersey, Utah and North Dakota—have added e-cigarettes to those laws, according to Weber and Esterl.
"And while more than 100 cities forbid vaping in areas where regular cigarettes are already banned—including Chicago, where city aldermen voted on Wednesday to restrict e-cigarette use—most haven't addressed the issue, leaving employers to make their own decisions," the writers add.
Employers' choices are complicated by the fact that public-health experts can't agree on whether e-cigarettes are a valuable tool for helping smokers kick the habit or simply a milder—but still potentially harmful—alternative to regular cigarettes, although that has not been proved..
I was distressed to learn at a recent parent-faculty meeting that e-cigs are turning up at school. The principal at my son's middle school said they're finding them in lockers and duffel bags but some sneak through because they're very innocuous-looking, "like a pen," the head of school said.
The concern is that most vaping liquids contain nicotine, the addictive agent in cigarettes, Weber and Esterl point out. "Scientists largely agree that e-cigarettes emit far fewer toxins than traditional cigarettes, but critics, including public-health officials and health advocacy groups, contend that secondhand vapor is a pollutant and more research is needed to understand its health effects," they write.  
So, where do we go from here?  No one quite knows.  Are they as harmless as fans say?  No. But are they as harmful as some experts say?  The truth is probably right smack in the middle.



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