NEW YORK (MainStreet)—So far, August has been a zero-sum month for e-cigarettes.

Let's call nicotine a substance, which it is. Let's also call smokers "abusers"—and, no, you don't count if you have one or two cigarettes a day.

Now, think about smokers in light of the two major classifications of "substance abuse" treatment: make the drug an impossible option for the abuser in order to "cure" him (i.e. tough love), or give the abuser alternative options to manage his intake and, maybe, cure himself.

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The reigning king of tough love? New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, whose office reportedly drafted three bills intended to classify e-cigarettes as tobacco products. The logic goes: if it sort-of looks like a cigarette and sort-of delivers nicotine like a cigarette, then it should be regulated like a cigarette.

During his 11 years in office, Bloomberg has tended to couch public health concerns as largely behavioral matters with a giant, movable economic lever through taxes, fines or penalties. And, while he can't control behavior's "nature," that doesn't mean he can't take a stab at its "nurture"—one of the bills includes a proposal to raise the tobacco-buying age from 18 to 21 years old. Like his failing attempt to regulate sugary sodas (to combat a range of chronic conditions from childhood obesity to adult diabetes), the underlying logic is the same: curb, deter or quash life-long habits precisely at the time when they are most likely to form.

And, how do we know about these bill drafts? They were reportedly leaked by the Consumer Advocates for Smoke-Free Alternatives Association (CASAA), whose name should give you a hint as to which model of substance abuse treatment it honors.

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The one-two punch here is CASAA's promotion of the Drexel University School of Public Health report issued last week (and authored by Drexel researcher Igor Burstyn) that absolves vapor-based e-cigarettes of being a clear public hazard and demonstrably affecting a user's personal health.

CASAA, it should be noted, also funded the study. What should also be noted, however, is the fact that Burstyn's conclusions are based on observing the negligible effects of e-cigarettes on individual users. His (and CASAA's) claims about the even more negligible effect on "public health" are based on extrapolation only; if the user's health isn't bothered, then the health of others around him or her will not be bothered, either. In other words, the study does not actually assess the impact of second-hand smoke (or, rather vapor).

And, that's the crux, really, of Bloomberg's crusade to curb tobacco use in New York: the direct effect on public health. I'm not sure he stays up late worrying about the individual smoker, crushing a pack on his balcony with a $9.99 bottle of wine. But, he cares abstractly about healthcare costs and acutely about someone's Parliament puff trailing four feet into another taxpayer's face. Or, in this case, someone's vapor cloud.

It shouldn't matter that CASAA leaked early drafts of Bloomberg's bills intended to regulate e-cigarettes, if only because it's unsurprising that he would do so. He's a tough love kind of fellow, after all.

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But, it should matter that the report authored by a Drexel professor and funded by CASAA, intended to circumscribe e-cigarettes' deleterious effects, only makes it to the half-way mark in declaring that public health is unencumbered by Stephen Dorff's evil army. Even Burstyn concludes, "it would be prudent to scrutinize the health of exposed individuals and examine how exposures could be reduced." Of course, then there's the X-factor of how one appears when chomping on an e-cig.

If the e-cigarette industry—or even (conventional) cigarette cessation and smoke-free alternative advocates—are going to make their case, they need to come out of the gate in a much bigger and scientifically backed way. Bloomberg and others might just smoke them otherwise.


--Written by William Richards for MainStreet