Aug. 1, 2013 06:00

Vapor Lock

State e-cig ban threatens MMJ patients who use vaporizers


Medical cannabis advocates in California are making a last-minute effort to change or kill a bill to ban e-cigarette use throughout much of the state. The e-cig ban in Senate Bill 648 would snare otherwise lawful medical marijuana patients using alternate versions of the devices to treat crippling pain, nausea, spasms and a wide variety of other conditions.

Of course, tobacco smoking is widely banned in California, because second-hand smoke causes cancer, emphysema and other serious health problems. Tobacco smoking is banned at work, bars, public buildings, parks, restaurants and hospitals. Landlords can disallow it, and smoking is a crime at California daycare centers.

By contrast, an e-cigarette uses a tiny battery, a vaporizer and reservoir of liquid nicotine and propylene glycol (an edible solvent used in asthma inhalers) to create an inhaled mist. Patented since the ‘60s, e-cigs surged out of China in 2004 to become a $10 billion global market, analysts report.


A Backlash

The MMJ community has adapted e-cig technology for cannabis, creating what’s often called a “vape pen.” Dozens of brands use the same technology: vaporizing a form of concentrated cannabis oil held in a reservoir. They don’t create smoke—or a telltale odor—and are easy to use in places a preroll or pipe isn’t: like on a public bus or train, or at city hall.

But with widespread use comes a backlash. The Food and Drug Administration has tried and failed to control e-cigarettes like a medicine, and France has a public ban plan. The UK will control e-cigs like medicine by 2016.

And in California, State Sen. Ellen Corbett (D-San Leandro) has become an anti e-cig crusader. She tried and failed to get California to ban them in 2009. On Feb. 22, she introduced SB 648 which would outlaw e-cig use anyplace tobacco smoking is currently outlawed.

Corbett states that since e-cigs have not been proven safe by the FDA, they should be treated like tobacco out of caution. With support from the California Medical Association, and Breathe California, SB 648 passed the Senate May 24 on a 24-10 vote. It’s now in the Assembly, where opponents hope to stop it this August.


Safer Than Tobacco

The Electronic Cigarette Industry Group said the bill is unscientific and will “dramatically reduce” the ability for e-cig users to vape in the state. E-cigs create no smoke, and no odor, far fewer carcinogens than burning tobacco, and e-cigs help nicotine addicts quit tobacco, they say.

A 2008 study found e-cigarettes are safer than tobacco due to reduced levels of carcinogens. A 2009 study by the FDA also found lower levels of carcinogens in e-cigs compared to tobacco smoking. A 2012 air quality comparison between e-cigs and burned tobacco in the journal Inhalation Toxicology said e-cigs have “low impacts” on air quality and pose no risk.


Vape Pens at Risk

Bay Area medical cannabis attorney Lauren Vazquez said the language SB 648 could ensnare otherwise lawful MMJ vape pen users. Dale Gieringer of California NORML is leading an opposition campaign to SB 648, saying current language would ban more than vape pens, but all smokeless vaporizers.

“Though SB 648 was approved by the State Senate as a bill against tobacco e-cigarettes, it would adversely impact use of vaporizers by medical marijuana patients,” NORML states. And “there is no evidence that vaporizers pose an appreciable second-hand smoking risk to the public.”

The bill could “make it virtually impossible for many patients to medicate,” Gieringer said. It would also ban the popular vape stations at California events like the High Times Medical Cannabis Cups.




Bad Policy

Patient advocacy group Americans for Safe Access has no official position on the anti e-cig SB 648, but spokesperson Kris Hermes said “it would be bad public health policy to limit a medical marijuana patient’s ability to vaporize their medicine.”

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