Ky. Voices: Madison County takes lead with public ban on e-cigs

In 2011, the Madison County Board of Health adopted changes to its indoor air regulation making it illegal to use electronic or e-cigarettes indoors in any public place or work sites.

Board members heard comments from the general public including makers and sellers of e-cigarettes. The board also heard and reviewed information from public health officials and medical professionals.

At the end of the open and fair process, the board found no credible scientific data that e-cigarettes are safe for the public to breathe or effective as an aid to help smokers quit.

Makers and sellers of e-cigarettes claim they only produce harmless water vapor. This is a false claim. A variety of recent scientific studies show e-cigarettes put measurable toxins in the air that endanger the health and safety of the public.

These toxic chemicals include: acetone (a solvent found in nail polish remover), cresol (commonly used in household cleaners like Lysol), xylene (found in gasoline and airplane fuels), styrene (cancer-causing chemical), ethyl alcohol (solvent, fuel, drug), acetic acid (corrosive substance), isoprene (hazardous chemical used in the manufacture of rubber), nitrosamines (cancer-causing toxins), and formaldehyde (embalming fluid).

Scientific studies also show one of the major ingredients in the liquid used in e-cigarettes is propylene glycol, a hazardous chemical when inhaled. Additionally, e-cigarettes produce nicotine (causes addiction and heart attack). The bottom line is simple. The e-cigarette vapor inhaled first or secondhand delivers an addictive and unsafe brew of toxic chemicals. The claims of e-cigarette makers and sellers cannot be trusted.

People who make and sell e-cigarettes (the majority of hem are made in China) also claim they are effective to help people quit smoking. People desperately trying to quit tobacco also make these same claims. Fortunately, public health policy does not rely on individual bias or deceptive self-serving claims aimed at making a profit.

The aggressive, misleading, and often false advertising by sellers, as well as the well-intentioned testimonials of people using e-cigarettes are no substitute for scientific research.

Thus, e-cigarettes should not be marketed with claims that they assist in smoking cessation until there exists independent scientific data that such claims are true.

The Food and Drug Administration will eventually regulate e-cigarettes the same as conventional tobacco products. Several large-scale investigational studies are being conducted and more will follow.

The U.S. tobacco industry has begun to invest heavily in e-cigarettes and is fighting their regulation just as it does conventional tobacco products. The tobacco industry is notorious for false claims, hiding health and medical information, and deceiving the public about the dangers of their products.

The Madison County Board of Health should be congratulated for its leadership and protection of the public from exposure to e-cigarette vapor indoors. All county work and public places should comply with ordinance and enforce the prohibition.

All local governments, boards of health, and the Kentucky legislature should also show leadership and make e-cigarette use inside all public places and work sites illegal.

Todd Warnick is on the board of the Madison County Agency for Substance Abuse Prevention.