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Crowley: LIRR makes the right call in snuffing out e-cigarettes

The proportion of students who reported having ever

The proportion of students who reported having ever used e-cigarettes last year doubled from 2011 to 10 percent for high school students and to 2.7 percent for middle school students. (June 12, 2013) Credit: PA Wire/Press Association

Long Island Rail Road regulations say it is illegal to “burn a lighted cigarette, cigar, pipe or any other matter or substance which contains tobacco or any tobacco substitute.” Now, the LIRR is citing that rule to ban electronic cigarettes on trains.

E-cigarettes have become popular in the United States and Europe in the past decade. They help smokers get their nicotine fix without inhaling all the harmful carcinogens found in tobacco smoke. Advocates for electronic cigarettes claim they are “cleaner” than tobacco cigarettes because they do not produce the smoke, ash and smell that conventional cigarettes do. Electronic cigarettes rely on battery power to heat nicotine-laced liquid into vapor.

Electronic cigarettes are fairly new and not much is known about them, so why would the LIRR group them with tobacco cigarettes — even if they have no tobacco?

According to an LIRR spokesman, the issue was raised when the railroad’s commuter council wrote a letter asking for the rail line’s policy on electronic cigarettes. In response, lawyers for the LIRR cited the language above from a 2011 state law that bans smoking on trains and platforms.

Although electronic cigarettes have no tobacco, banning them on the LIRR was nevertheless the right decision.

The German Cancer Research Center in Heidelberg studied the liquid in and the vapor emitted from electronic cigarettes and found that its main ingredients, including propylene glycol and glycerin, are safe in trace amounts for food consumption, but unsafe for inhalation.

Propylene glycol, the main liquid ingredient in e-cigarettes, is common in deicing agents and industrial antifreeze. It can be linked to respiratory problems if a person is exposed long enough, the German researchers said. The secondhand vapor can also increase a child’s risk for asthma.

According to the study, the glycerin found in electronic cigarettes has been linked to respiratory diseases, like lipoid pneumonia. The study also linked electronic cigarettes with congestive heart failure and burns due to an explosion of the product. Also, if swallowed, the liquid in e-cigarettes can lead to death.

Other institutions have come to similar conclusions, including such as the Department of Health Behavior at the Roswell Park Cancer Institute in New York and the University of Athens in Greece.

However, if that is not persuasive enough, one can just read the warning label of some e-cigarettes sold in Europe: “Use the product with utmost caution if you are suffering from a disease of the lungs (e.g. asthma, COPD, bronchitis, pneumonia). If your lungs are impaired, the vapour released may cause asthma attacks, dyspnoea, and coughing fits. Do not use the product if you experience any of these symptoms!”

Some might argue that smokers of e-cigarettes put themselves at risk for all of those problems. But the LIRR’s chief concern should be for other riders who might be exposed to secondhand vapor from e-cigarettes.

A spokeswomen for the federal Drug and Food Administration told The New York Times that the agency is preparing to release a proposed rule to regulate electronic cigarettes. The FDA can go two ways, depending on its research. If electronic cigarettes are found to be a healthy substitute to tobacco cigarettes, then the FDA will do little to regulate them. However, if electronic cigarettes are found to be unhealthy, then the FDA will regulate them just it does tobacco products.

Even though an electronic cigarette is a healthier substitute for a tobacco cigarette, more studies have to be conducted on the long-term effects, especially of secondhand vapor, before we allow people to “vape” on trains. The LIRR was justified in banning them, even if citing anti-tobacco rules, because nobody can be certain if the smoking industry is just, once again, blowing smoke about the safety of its product.