Big Tobacco is getting into the electronic cigarette business, so, of course, some Kentucky politicians are hopping on the bandwagon.
Rep. Stan Lee, R-Lexington, has filed an amendment that would exempt e-cigs from a proposed statewide smoke-free law.
House Bill 190, which would ban smoking in indoor public places, cleared committee with no dissenting votes and inspired a Capitol rally last week.
Gov. Steve Beshear, Kentucky Chamber of Commerce President David Adkisson and former Wildcat basketball star Derek Anderson all lent their support.
Adkisson said smoking costs Kentucky $3.8 billion a year in medical care and lost productivity. Anderson, whose father died of lung cancer, said HB 190, which has bipartisan sponsorship, could spare many Kentucky families from similar losses.
With so much high-profile support, this just might be the session in which the full House votes to do something that 24 states already have done, by protecting the public, especially Kentuckians who work in smoke-filled spaces, from the very real hazards of breathing secondhand tobacco smoke.
About a third of the state's population already is protected by local smoke-free ordinances, the first of which took effect in Lexington in 2004. If those almost nine years of experience have taught us anything, it's that smoke-free laws work best, withstand court challenges and are most fair when there are no exemptions. An exemption for e-cigs, which don't produce smoke but look like they do, would pose an enforcement nightmare.
Also, there hasn't been enough research on their effects on users or non-users, but what we do know is not good. The battery-powered nicotine-delivery devices have been found to spew particles into the air which could lodge in the lungs, as well as emitting chemical vapors, including formaldehyde, a carcinogen.
The e-cig industry has argued in court that e-cigs are tobacco products, not drug-delivery devices, which would be subject to regulation by the Food and Drug Administration just as nicotine patches and gum are.
Lorillard has acquired e-cigarette maker Blu, Time recently reported. Reynolds American is test marketing an e-cig called Vuse. And Bloomberg speculated in December that Altria (the former Philip Morris) might be contemplating a takeover of e-cig maker NJOY.
E-cig marketing touts the freedom and liberty (a la the Marlboro Man of yore) bestowed by their products, but really e-cigs are emerging as just another way for the cigarette-makers to addict Kentuckians — and their elected officials.