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Protests Inaugurate New Year

Well, the overweening regulators have done it! They have made an angry protest movement out of a group of peaceful people who were just trying to make their lives healthier!

The new year has brought in public use bans on electronic cigarettes in several locations, and in two of them, an angry protest was the result.

At the Oklahoma Statehouse in Oklahoma City, between 25 and 30 demonstrators gathered to protest Governor Mary Fallin's executive order banning e-cigarettes from state buildings, where toxic cigarettes are already banned.

In New York City,a smoker lit up an actual combustible cigarette at the signing of Bloomberg's final nose-thumbing at the city's would-be quitters. She was removed, but apparently not arrested or ticketed.

This is something we are likely to see more of in the coming year. E-cigarette users do not seem inclined to give up their life-saving device with docile acquiescence. The growth of protest movements among the vaping community has been a signal development of the last year or so, as overprotective regulators seek to defend public health by prohibiting healthier nicotine delivery products. Indeed the growth of the "vaping community" itself is a signal development. Government moves to take away the community's rights are highly injudicious.

It is extremely unfortunate that both of these protests involved the use of toxic cigarettes as well as harmless e-cigs. This blurs the distinction in a way that is certain to harm the movement in the long run. It will no doubt encourage anti-smoking activists to lump vapers together with smokers, an association that couldn't be more inaccurate and harmful.

In organizing the protest event, Howard Houchen of Oklahoma wrote on his Facebook timeline: “Bring your Cigars, Cigarettes, Pipes, E-Cigs, Snuff and Chew for a good ole time of of much needed, peaceful, Civil Disobedience." He apparently justified this by extending his invitation to citizens who "feel state gov’t is encroaching on the civil liberties of individual." The issue is likely to draw participation from citizens who fear government encroachment on a variety of issues, as is also indicated by the appearance of Houchen's call to action on the blog site of a major political figure on the American right. At the end of his appeal, Houchen added, quite illogically (and counter-factually, since he was urging people to use all kinds of toxic as well as non-toxic nicotine products at the event): "By-the-way: This is NOT an encouragement to take up smoking!!!”

One can only hope that these legitimate protests will not become clouded with a lot of political clutter, as well as with the participation of toxic-cigarette users. Vapers are urged to keep the issue clean and focused, and never to participate in events where toxic smoking will also be involved.

News coverage on the protests was predictably inaccurate. The story cited above on the New York protest quoted a health advocate as urging e-cig users to "smoke with cautious optimism," when "vaping" was clearly meant. The comment was the usual nod to the fiction that the dangers of e-cigs are unknown (Igor Burstyn to the contrary notwithstanding).

One of the Oklahoma stories stated: "Many of the protestors not only smoked prohibited e-cigarettes, but banned pipes and banned tobacco products," without any documentation or information on just how "many". Indeed, it is quite unclear what "many" could mean in the context of a group of 25-30 people. Of the 8 people quoted in the various stories, half of them (4) were specifically cited as vapers using e-cigs as a smoking cessation device, and enthusiastically so. One cannot imagine that any of them were smoking pipes or cigarettes. The reporter apparently made no effort to interview any of the protestors who were using toxic products, a critical lapse of journalistic judgement, but not really a surprise in journalism on this issue. It seems probable that the writer was simply responding to the fact that Houchen had invited people to use toxic products.

So it looks like we're off to an exciting year, thanks to Bloomberg, and Fallin, and the whole "if it moves, ban it" crowd, and to the failure of the dilatory FDA and EU Commission to provide leadership on the issue. In the immortal words of Bette Davis, "fasten your seat belts, it's going to be... bumpy...."

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