Gaetano Putignano: A vote against e-cigarettes is a vote for smoking

Editor’s note: This commentary is by Gaetano Putignano, of Bellows Falls, who owns and operates 802 E-Cig Supply.

I smoked my last combustible tobacco cigarette on Aug. 21, 2013. Using an e-cigarette was the only method that ever worked to help me quit tobacco, after trying every other FDA-approved product available. I currently vape fruit-flavored e-liquid that contains no nicotine. I firmly believe that using an electronic cigarette with a choice of flavors saved my life.

I testified again this year at the Statehouse on Feb. 3 in opposition of H.171 and brought up three studies specific to the scientific evidence showing that secondhand vapor does not harm bystanders. As Vermont legislators consider how to regulate e-cigarettes, it is important to understand the critical role vapor products play in tobacco harm reduction.

Before considering H.171, which would prohibit the use of e-cigarettes where combustible tobacco products can’t be used, and H.59, which would ban the sale of the flavored e-liquid, or any tax on these products, it is essential that legislators understand how these products are being used, and their real-world impact on public health.

In the most comprehensive governmental review of e-cigarettes anywhere in the world, Public Health England concluded that e-cigarettes are “around 95% less harmful” than tobacco cigarettes, and that they are helping people quit smoking.

If Vermont treats smoke-free e-cigarettes with the same restrictive laws used for combustible tobacco cigarettes, fewer people will be inclined to quit smoking by switching to e-cigarettes. Not only would e-cigarettes lose their advantage in terms of being more convenient alternatives, the implicit (and incorrect) message would be that they are also equally dangerous, not only to the user, but to those exposed to the vapor.

If the degree of enthusiasm former smokers have for e-cigarettes is any barometer, they are a much more popular way to help people quit smoking than forcing them to stand out in the cold.


Ostensibly, the purpose of anti-smoking laws such as Vermont’s Clean Air Act has been first to reduce exposure to environmental cigarette smoke and second, to reduce the number of places people can smoke, with the hope that it would cause people to quit.

Reflexively including e-cigarettes in the Clean Air Act undermines both of these goals. It will not reduce exposure to secondhand smoke, because there is no smoke. In fact, people will continue to smoke cigarettes, often bunched up on the sidewalk near a bar, exposing passers-by to smoke. And if the degree of enthusiasm former smokers have for e-cigarettes is any barometer, they are a much more popular way to help people quit smoking than forcing them to stand out in the cold.

The U.S. FDA’s chief tobacco regulator, Mitch Zeller, understands the need to carefully thread the regulatory needle when it comes to e-cigarettes. He told the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s New Public Health, “The other example is if at the end of the day people are smoking for the nicotine, but dying from the tar, then there’s an opportunity for FDA to come up with what I’ve been calling a comprehensive nicotine regulatory policy that is agency-wide and that is keyed to something that we call the continuum of risk: that there are different nicotine containing and nicotine delivering products that pose different levels of risk to the individual.”

As Vermont legislators consider e-cigarettes, it is important to remember the law that is frequently forgotten: the law of unintended consequences. As any vaping former smoker will tell you, a vote to treat e-cigarettes like cigarettes, is a vote for smoking.

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  • Paul Richards

    e-cigarettes are being hijacked and used for smoking dope. The cartridges are replaced with one containing dope so people can smoke dope undetected wherever they want to. E-cigarettes should be treated like combustible cigarettes.

    • You can also turn a can of Pepsi into a device for smoking “dope”. But it is also not what its intended purpose is. Dope is also almost legal. You’re off topic. They are designed to help adults stop smoking deadly combustible tobacco cigarettes and are extremely effective in that manner. They shouldn’t be treated anything like a combustible cigarette because its not smoke.

    • Clarke Comollo

      E-cigs have not, they use a liquid. Pot smokers have their own devices, readily available on the web.

    • Kim “Skip” Murray

      Most e-cigs do not have a cartridge. They have a tank that the consumer fills with a liquid that is vaporized. People liquefy some drugs by holding a spoon over a candle, and yet where is the out cry to ban spoons and candles to keep some people from doing drugs? I have heard of people taking the tobacco out of cigars and filling them with dope to smoke. Then there’s the artistic type who melt glass and blow glass pipes out of it for the purpose of smoking drugs. Should we outlaw all glass and glass making in our country? Did you know that some people core out an apple and use some aluminum foil and make a pot pipe out of their apple? Shall we also ban apples and aluminum foil? Should we treat all of the above mentioned items as combustible cigarettes?

      And then there’s all the hardware that makes up e-cigs, things like regulated boxes, batteries, coils, and tanks. Why would they be treated like a combustible cigarette? The batteries are just like the ones in a laptop computer, so those would also need to be treated as combustible cigarettes! If that logic holds true, shouldn’t matches, lighters, pipe cleaners, and lighter fluid also be treated like combustible cigarettes?

      Meanwhile, the whole point of e-cigarettes is getting lost. Millions of people are now quitting smoking, living healthier lives, saving the system tons of money on health care costs, and no longer exposing their loved ones to second hand smoke.

      Pushing to punish somebody who quit smoking by trying to ban, tax, etc. their e-cigs is like saying we don’t care about these ex-smokers and just want them to return to smoking. Why would we want that??????????

      • Paul Richards

        That’s not the point. Just pointing out that some misuse it to mask the smell of dope.

        • Nick Askew

          Dude… what are you talking about. The nicotine vaporizers are incapable of burning oil (the fluid that “dope” is soluble in), they use a small coiled heat filament that would be destroyed immediately in contact with oil. “Dope” vaporizers use a pot like chamber to heat the substance for this reason. You might be saying, “this guy knows too much about it, clearly a doper.” Nope, I just check my facts, you should try it!

          • Jason Wells

            Wrong do a Google search there are many ways to infuse thc in glycerin for use in a ecig device. Disclaimer: Having said that ingesting thc in this fashion is much safer than smoking it and eliminates the combustion factor which creates carcinogens. As for using it in public places I think most places are already aware as last year I was literally tackled by security in the Flynn for pulling my ecig out of my pocket while getting change for a beer (no new law needed). I was told to hide it as they had no clue what was in it. It was just nicotine though sigh…..

  • Nevin Zablotsky, DMD

    There are many who question the validity of the Public Health England review. There does appear to be a unanimous agreement that more research needs to be done to determine if e-cigarettes are truly an effective cessation aid and are safe. The statistics showing a marked increase in the usage of these products by kids is worrisome, as is some of the new research showing the potential dangers of the flavorings being used. Certainly, the medical community would welcome a safe product that will get folks to stop smoking. It is very disconcerting watching our patients suffer from COPD and cancer and heart disease not to mention other awful afflictions. We welcome all efforts to help our patients break this difficult addiction to nicotine, but we cannot rush too quickly into supporting these products as a panacea to nicotine addiction when they could potentially cause other significant problems.
    Mr. Putignano may indeed have the best interests of Vermonters in mind when he endorses ENDS, but one also has to consider that he does make a profit selling these products and may be biased in his analyses.

    • I use zero nicotine. I don’t smoke cigarettes. I ended the “nicotine addiction”, even though it is absolitley the least of ones health concerns when smoking a combustible tobacco cigarette. I own a successful construction company, I started this business two years ago because I was fascinated how easy it was to quit and wanted to pass that experience on to others. I had no intentions of opening three stores. That part happened because of the way we do business. Extremely knowledgeable, passionate staff. The business pays for itself and 4 employees, I still have a “real” job. Also, before I had done any research I hot a “cig-a-like” from the tobacco store. Simplying knowing there isn’t any smoke convinced me it HAD to be safer than a combustible cigarette. After watching my father in law, all my grandparents, close friends DIE from smoking, I had to do something. This worked, nothing else ever did. The kid argument is some folks last argument. Teenage smoking is also at an all time low. Unlike a convenience store were they sell tobacco cigarettes and cigalikes, you must be 18 to enter our shop . We aren’t here to target kids. There are also lots of studies showing the kids who did try e-cigs actually preferred tobacco flavors and adults found more success with fruit flavors.

    • Nevin Zablotsky’s comments are woefully reminiscent of those of the merchants of doubt who long raised questions about the risks of cigarettes. Now, public health activists are suggesting that cigarettes are no more harmful than e-cigarettes.

      Consider this line: .”We welcome all efforts to help our patients break this difficult addiction to nicotine, but we cannot rush too quickly into supporting these products as a panacea to nicotine addiction when they could potentially cause other significant problems.”

      – —- If you are primarily concerned with nicotine addiction, this makes perfect sense.
      But nicotine addiction doesn’t cause COPD, cancer, heart disease, not to mention other awful afflictions. It is the combustion and inhalation of tobacco. E-cigarettes replace that combustion.

      Dr. Zablotsky should be very cautious about misleading patients about the risks of vaping e-cigarettes compared to those of smoking cigarettes.

    • Kevin Greenwood

      Respectfully, I have had my Primary Care Dr. and A Cardiologist as recent as last week support my decision to use vaping as a cessation method. I also watched my Grandfather, my Father die from smoking. My Mother who stopped smoking 7 years ago because of COPD lives with me and has had near life threatening events. She is now on multiple inhalers to breathe and these medications are very expensive ( Big Pharma Profits ). So nobody is asking you to endorse it. We are asking you to make a rational medical based factual reason for banning it. April 1st will be one year since I lit my last cigarette. My lungs are clear (Dr. Exam), I don’t get out of breath with physical exertion and I don’t spew second hand smoke. The Federal Government/FDA is quick to scrutinize every little thing we put in our bodies, while allow the biggest killers, cigarettes are immune because of the tax revenue it collects. How ironic and hypocritical.

      • Nevin Zablotsky DMD

        We all agree that cigarettes are harmful. We also all agree that we don’t want to see our loved ones suffer anymore from their smoking habit. It took until the early sixties and the surgeon general’s report stating that it caused lung cancer for people to start listening, and even then tobacco companies took no responsibilities for what they caused. They blamed smokers for ignoring these warnings while knowing that the addiction they caused made it so hard to quit. If e-cigarettes prove to be a safe effective cessation aid that will be great. It is the rush to accept them as the end all be all that we have to be cautious of.

        • Adam Tredwell

          That’s a fair and reasonable perspective. I fear the backlash is due to too many in the “vaping” community who too often are forced to combat lobbyists from the “public health” community who are woefully misinformed – and wish to remain so. Indeed, twice in the last month I heard speeches and testimony from a supposed expert that e-cigarettes filled users’ lungs with cups of oil after only a year. How a liquid that is primarily an alcohol and contains no oil becomes an oil without a chemical reaction was never explained. I’m sure it requires some pretty amazing magic. What is even more amazing is that, according to this “expert” my lungs contain almost 2 gallons of oil after nine years of vaping, yet I still have a clean bill of health.

          Unfortunately, public health “experts” are not necessarily scientifically literate. So far, there is no scientific evidence that e-cigarettes pose any significant risk. If that changes, then so should the state’s response; but not before.

          Finally, the cigarette argument doesn’t equate – at least not in the way people think: Any chemist worth the name should have been able to state that cigarettes were harmful based solely on the fact that smokers were inhaling the products and byproducts of combustion (and, more importantly, incomplete combustion). The chemistry here is not the same as there is no combustion, i.e. there is not the chemical reaction taking place. The ingredients of the liquid are the ingredients in the inhaled vapor. Those are known and have generally been studied in vivo. Where it does equate is that the legislature is more likely to listen to lobbyists (now mostly from the public health industry) than to scientists. That happened when the government failed to regulate cigarettes and it seems like it’s happening again with the government going after e-cigarettes (ironically, or perhaps tellingly, a product in competition with “big tobacco” and big pharma).

          • Jason Wells

            Oil and alcohol are not primary ingredients. They would be either propylene glycol, vegetable glycerine and a flavoring. Often the flavor is in an alcohol base but it’s generally around 3% by volume although the flavoring in most store bought mixes is right from dupont. I just make my own and buy in bulk it costs about 3 bucks a month and contains only vegtable glycerine, nicotine and organic flavoring in an alcohol solution.

          • Adam Tredwell

            Just an FYI: glycerol and propylene glycol are both alcohols (have the OH group) hence the nomenclature of ending the name with ‘ol’, e.g.: ethanol, isopropanol, methanol, glycerol, etc.

  • John E Pierce

    Banning e-cigarettes is an example of the perfect becoming the enemy of the good. Isn’t it better that people use e-cigarettes than smoking tobacco?

  • Clarke Comollo

    E-Cigs should be smoking age to buy. Has already had NY’s indoor restriction overturned by the courts. It is NOT smoking.

  • Clarke Comollo

    Please let me choose the way I want to abuse myself, I do it by eating Organic vegetables. Fast food and the obesity epidemic is the biggest health threat in this Country, E-cigs are the least of our worries.