By Brendan Frost
Sean Partridge, the owner of Crescent City Vape on Magazine Street — and my boss at the store — was at the Thursday night Saints-Falcons game when halftime rolled around and he felt like having a vape. Since the New Orleans City Council passed the indoor smoking and vaping ban that took effect on April 22, Saints fans who want to vape must step outside into the designated smoking area that hugs the Super Dome.
“You’re not allowed to leave the stadium and come back,” Sean said. “So you have to go to this area closed off with police barricades. It’s a group of rowdy people packed in shoulder-to-shoulder, and almost every single person is smoking cigarettes.”
About two-thirds of this smoking/vaping section is covered by an overhang, which causes the smoke to curl downward, hovering around the faces of vapers and smokers alike.
“It’s unbearable. Eyes watering, nose burning, it’s very disgusting. E-cigarette vapor does not cause this type of reaction.” Other vapers in this section, Sean told me, were complaining that they were inhaling more smoke than they had since they quit smoking.
I share this story because it’s a great illustration of the problem with vaping regulation. The New Orleans City Council, like many city and state organizations across the country, enacted legislation without fully understanding relatively new products and the law’s impact on the people (primarily former smokers) who use these products.
I won’t mince words: The main purpose of this ordinance — to prohibit tobacco smoking in any indoor public space — is beneficial for my long-term health, and that of thousands of people in this city.
I hate smoking. That’s why I quit almost two years ago. I was smoking a pack and a half per day. I don’t miss cigarettes even a tiny bit, and I’m endlessly grateful for the years of my life that vaping has given back to me.
As a vaper, I don’t mind being barred from vaping where smokers cannot smoke. It’s a small price to pay for what is ultimately a big step forward for public health. But I do mind when that restriction treats vaping and smoking equally, and ends up forcing former smokers like me to be in unhealthy environments like the Super Dome scene described above. There are thousands of former smokers, now vapers, in our city whose health concerns were overlooked in this legislation.
To be clear, it’s not really the final form of the ordinance in practice that worries me. It’s the city’s official association of vaping and smoking that has much bigger implications on public health.
The indoor smoking and vaping ban, as initially proposed in January by Councilwoman LaToya Cantrell, exempted smoke shops and cigar bars, but not vape shops. In this sense, the proposal took an even harsher approach towards vaping, which indicates a lack of understanding about vaping and its role for smokers who want to quit.
Fortunately, the ordinance eventually was amended to allow vaping in vape shops, among other changes.
The biggest problem with the ban is that it restricts smoking and vaping in exactly the same ways, and as a result, many New Orleanians equate the two in terms of negative health effects. That means many smokers actually believing that e-cigarettes are just as harmful as the cigarettes they continue to smoke.
Of course, cigarettes and e-cigarettes are not the same. E-cigarettes do not produce any smoke and do not contain any tobacco. The only shared ingredient in tobacco cigarettes and e-cigarettes is nicotine, which some researchers consider no more harmful than caffeine.
E-cigarette opponents often say that we just don’t have enough research and information to make informed decisions about vaping. And many such claims were made during City Council meetings discussing the ban. In reality, however, a research on the health effects of vaping has shown positive results.
This summer, Public Health England, an agency of U.K.’s Department of Health, published a comprehensive review of 94 scientific papers and nine additional reports related to e-cigarettes. Their official position based on their findings is that vaping is at least 95% less harmful than smoking and is an effective method of smoking cessation. Two counties in England actually have begun to prescribe vaping as an official medical method of quitting cigarettes.
The bottom line is that smoking is the leading cause of preventable illness and death in the world, responsible for nearly 500,000 deaths in the U.S. each year. And countless Americans have reduced their smoking or have quit entirely thanks to vaping.
By treating vaping and smoking the same in this ordinance, New Orleans City Council has sent a dangerous message to smokers in our communities. And the bar may be set for future restrictions on vaping whenever tobacco products face additional regulation.
In a city where 20% of residents still smoke cigarettes, we should be ready and willing to embrace products that can drastically reduce smoking rates, rather than jumping at the first opportunity to restrict them.
Brendan Frost is a manager at Crescent City Vape’s Uptown shop at 4507 Magazine Street. He’s been vaping for nearly two years, successfully using e-cigarettes to quit tobacco cigarettes. Brendan has a Master of Fine Arts in creative writing from UNO.