Angi Stalnaker: Why Homewood’s smokefree movement is getting it wrong

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The Homewood City Council passed one of the most aggressive smoking ordinances in the state several years ago and that ordinance has served as a model for similar ordinances throughout the state. Recently, a group of concerned citizens calling themselves “Smokefree Homewood” started a movement to expand the smoking ordinance and include provisions to ban the use of vape products inside privately owned vape businesses with an ordinance that would continue to make it permissible to smoke cigarettes and cigars inside tobacco shops. (You didn’t read that wrong. The ordinance would allow smoking in tobacco shops but would ban vape use in vape shops.)

A public hearing held by the Homewood City Council this week gave residents the opportunity to voice their support for or opposition of the ordinance expansion and the “Smokefree Homewood” movement brought nearly 20 people to speak on their behalf while the vape industry presented four speakers on its behalf. The hearing, which lasted more than an hour, turned out to be the perfect example of how the smokefree movements in Homewood and across the country are getting in wrong when it comes to the vape industry.

The fact is that the vape industry and the smokefree movement have the same goal. They both want to encourage people to make healthier choices and to end their dependence on dangerous tobacco products. Research from well-respected medical facilities shows that former smokers who use vape products to try to quit smoking are much more likely to give up their tobacco habit permanently than those who try a variety of other methods. The studies also show that vape usage has no secondhand effect on the air quality surrounding the user and that such products are 95 percent safer than smoking cigarettes. Even UAB recently acknowledged that vape use should not be condemned when the UAB employee benefits committee issued a statement amending its nicotine usage policy. The committee removed the use of e-cigarettes or “vaping” as a declared tobacco product and will no longer charge an additional wellness fee to users of electronic cigarettes and vape products.

So, overwhelming medical research shows that vaping is a safer alternative to smoking and even UAB has made in a change in its policy to reflect that. Furthermore, Alabama law prohibits the sale of the products to anyone under 19 years old so there is no marketing or sales to children. Even the American Heart Association acknowledged in their journal, Circulation, that electronic cigarette usage is one of the most effective tobacco cessation techniques available. But, when faced with all of the research and evidence, the smokefree movement decided to attack the vape industry instead of joining  them to pursue a common goal.

For nearly an hour, person after person went to the microphone, many of them quoting studies that espouse the harm of electronic cigarettes. They told horror stories about the vape industry. The irony is that they were not quoting independent studies: They instead referred to research funded and distributed by the tobacco industry.

How is that for irony?

The smokefree movement discounted independent medical studies and instead chose to carry the propaganda of Big Tobacco. I don’t think it was intentional. I don’t think many of the smokefree advocates knew that the studies they quoted were so flawed. I believe they genuinely were trying to do the right thing for their community and their families. Unfortunately, they were playing right into the hands of Big Tobacco.

This is not isolated to Homewood. This happens across Alabama and throughout this country. The smokefree movement would be best served by following the advice of fellow smokefree advocate, Scott Ballin. Ballin is a former American Heart Association VP and a former coordinator for Tobacco Free Kids and he advocates for a coordinated public education effort about the potential role that electronic cigarettes could play in reducing disease and death caused by tobacco usage.

The smokefree movement is waging a war but they are aiming their artillery in the wrong direction and that’s not good for anyone.

Angi Stalnaker is an Alabama native who, as a political consultant, has worked on numerous statewide, legislative and constitutional amendment races for conservative causes and candidates. For more information about her visit Virtus Solutions

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