posted by Elaine Keller
On November 6, North Dakota citizens will vote on adopting a drastically revised version of the state’s anti-smoking law, “Initiated Statutory Measure No. 4 Relating to Prohibiting Smoking in Public Spaces and Worksites.” Absentee balloting has already begun.
Chelsey Matter, a West Fargo respiratory therapist, served as chairwoman for Smoke-Free North Dakota’s sponsoring committee for the initiated measure which required 13,457 signatures on a petition to place the measure on the ballot. SFND appears to be an ad hoc committee made up of members of various anti-smoker groups. Notice that I labeled the groups “anti-smoker” rather than “anti-smoking”
At one time, such groups claimed they were only concerned with protecting the health and safety of bystanders. Now it is clear that the goal is much broader. Their “denormalization of smoking” really means the “demonization of smokers.” And if smokers are demons, it’s OK to punish them, in some of the worst possible ways, even after they have stopped smoking.
The ballot item reads as follows;
Initiated Statutory Measure No. 4
This initiated statutory measure would amend chapter 23-12 of the North Dakota Century Code. This measure would prohibit smoking, including the use of electronic smoking devices, in public places and most places of employment in the state, including certain outdoor areas. It would provide notification and enforcement responsibilities, along with penalties for violations.
YES — means you approve the measure summarized above.
NO — means you reject the measure summarized above
The ballot language itself and the propaganda issued by the anti-smoker groups that initiated the measure contain some blatantly false claims as well as implied false claims.
FALSE CLAIM 1: Workers currently have no protection against smoke in the workplace.
Supporters claim the ballot measure is needed “to assure smoke-free air for all workers and most public places,” implying that most or all North Dakotas have no clean air in which to work.
THE FACTS: North Dakota’s Century Code is the codification of all general and permanent law enacted since statehood. Under the current law, Chapter 23-12-09, “Smoking in public places and places of employment,” smoking is prohibited in all enclosed public areas, with few exceptions.
FALSE CLAIM 2: Electronic cigarette vapor is identical to conventional cigarette smoke.
The proposed new version of the law adds “e-cigarette” to the definitions section and revises the definition of “smoking” to imply that vapor is the same thing as smoke.
THE FACTS: A recent study published in Indoor Air compared exhaled smoke to vapor. In vapor they could detect only 6 of the 20 highest concentrations of chemicals found in smoke.
The amounts of the six chemicals measured in vapor could be expressed as whole numbers only by converting to parts per BILLION (ppb). All were far, far below harmful limits. For example, formaldehyde was present at the equivalent of 13 pennies out one billion (ten million dollars worth of pennies.) The Alberta Ambient Air Quality Objectives for formaldehyde is five times higher.
Furthermore, since vapor is not produced by the process of combustion, it does not contain the harmful tar, carbon monoxide, particulates, and thousands of chemicals found in smoke. A U.S. Federal Court judge told the FDA that there is “no evidence to show that electronic cigarettes harmed anyone.”
FALSE CLAIM 3: Vapor exposes bystanders to the dangers of nicotine.
An opinion piece written by one of the measure’s proponents stated, “… there is no study that shows what a safe level of nicotine is and, personally, I don’t believe there is one.”
THE FACTS: Nicotine may be the least harmful of any of the ingredients in smoke. But even if it were more dangerous, the point is moot, because exhaled vapor does not expose bystanders to nicotine. In the Indoor Air study, researchers could detect nicotine only by capturing exhaled vapor before it mixed with air in the chamber.
The quantity of nicotine measured was a mere 1.04 ppb; the OSHA Short Term Exposure Limit is about 1500 times higher. And the only way a bystander could come into contact with this tiny, tiny amount would be to lock lips with an e-cigarette user as he or she exhales.
FALSE CLAIM 4: E-cigarette users are trying to get around anti-smoking laws.
The revised definition of ‘smoking” claims that e-cigarettes are used for the purpose of “circumventing the prohibition of smoking in this Act.”
THE FACTS: The only way someone can be “circumventing the prohibition” of any action would be to actually be doing the prohibited action. Using an e-cigarette is not smoking. In fact, most e-cigarettes are former smokers who use the devices to avoid relapsing to smoking.
FALSE CLAIM 5: The new law will protect health and improve the economy.
According to a news item, Matter says the Smoke-Free North Dakota committee decided to move forward because of the positive health and economic impact a smoke-free law would have on the people of North Dakota.
THE FACTS: The measure will endanger the health of many people and negatively impact the hospitality industry.
Banning the use of e-cigarettes indoors endangers the health of former smokers who may be tempted to relapse if sent out into the elements with the smokers. Many smokers first discover the safer devices when they see them being used where smoking isn’t allowed. Banning indoor use removes an incentive for smokers to switch to a low-risk alternative.
The measure removes exemptions for bars, outdoor stadiums, tobacco shops, private rooms in hotels and motels, and private nursing home rooms. California Governor Jerry Brown recently vetoed a nursing home smoking ban, stating it would be “reasonable to allow elderly smokers to remain inside during inclement weather.”
The measure does not allow hotels and motels to set aside some designated rooms for smokers. If this measure is passed, North Dakota will provide no overnight shelter for smokers (and users of smoke-free e-cigarettes) outside of private homes.
The law will change the definition of “enclosed area” to prohibit smoking in most designated outdoor smoking areas. The original definition was meant to apply to indoor areas only.
“Enclosed area” means all space between a floor and ceiling that is enclosed on all sides by solid walls or windows, exclusive of doorways, which extend from the floor to the ceiling.
To be exempted from inclusion in the definition of “enclosed area” where smoking is prohibited, outdoor shelters would provide inadequate protection from the elements.
“Enclosed area” means all space between a floor and a ceiling that has thirty-three percent or more of the surface area of its perimeter bounded by opened or closed walls, windows or doorways. A wall includes any physical barrier regardless of whether it is open or closed, temporary or permanent, or contains openings of any kind, and includes retractable dividers and garage doors.
Many businesses made a considerable financial investment in constructing and heating shelters to protect the health of their employees and their patrons.
In Norse mythology, Hell is a cold, freezing place. Sending paying hotel guests, restaurant patrons, sick people, and former smokers out in the elements is downright rude. But given the nature of North Dakota winters sending anyone outside and simultaneously reducing the size of shelters to less than 33% walls could be life-threatening.
Public health officials may have a responsibility to reduce the smoking rate, but nobody gave them the authority to accomplish it by hastening the demise of smokers.