Friday, January 13, 2012

Wisconsin bill to exclude e-cigs from smoking bans controversal?

"Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again but expecting different results."
- Rita Mae Brown

State Senator Glen Grothman (R-West Bend) has introduced Wisconsin Assembly Bill No. 469, an "Act to renumber 101.123 (1) (h); and to create 101.123 (1) (h) 2m. of the statutes; relating to: exempting electronic smoking devices from the types of smoking devices that may not be used in certain locations."

In my mind, this is an e-cigarette advocate's dream - to have a legislator on our side for once. To my surprise and astonishment, this bill is instead going over like a lead balloon for everyone except Wisconsin vapers.

I seriously feel that it's time we stopped always being on the defense and start making offensive maneuvers such as this, yet I have heard these objections to this bill from OUR side: 1) It's opening a can of worms; 2) It's creating a problem where there is none; 3) It's a huge waste of time and energy and a distraction from "important legislative battles;" and 4) This legislation doesn't preempt the local governments from including e-cigarettes in their bans, so it's basically worthless.

OK, 1) We aren't opening the proverbial "can of worms," the ANTZ are already doing it for us. Why let them get their misinformation to the legislators FIRST? Isn't it naive to think that if we don't do it, they won't either? Isn't that essentially hiding our heads in the sand and pretending it isn't happening?

2) There may not be a "problem" today (as e-cigarettes are not referenced/included in the current law), but don't think that the ANTZ aren't working behind the scenes EVERYWHERE to introduce legislation or definition changes to include e-cigarettes in indoor bans. It's foolish to think that we are somehow "safe" if we aren't the ones to open up the dialog. We have evidence popping up like weeds all over the country showing that the ANTZ are actively approaching state and local legislators to get e-cigarettes included in smoking bans. It's stupid to think they aren't working anywhere and everywhere and we aren't going to be "creating" any problems that the ANTZ won't be right behind us to do themselves. 

Why do we have to wait and then have to undo the damage the ANTZ already have caused once we find out about the bill? These bills don't come out of a vacuum - the ANTZ have to spread their misinformation and lies to a lot of legislators before they get one to introduce a bill. By the time we are fighting the bill, most of the damage has been done and we have far less time to get the truth out. The reality is that those who introduce a bill are seen as more knowledgeable about the issue and their argument will be given greater weight. (They basically have all of the time in the world to make their arguments, while we have the short period between introduction and the vote.)

3) Wouldn't having specific language in the law stating outright that e-cigarettes are NOT "smoking" help prevent or seriously slow down efforts to get them included?? We are involved in all of these legislative battles because we are constantly on the defense against legislation introduced to ban e-cigarettes and the misinformation and lies told legislators that we have to try to UNDO. Wouldn't it make more sense that these proposed changes adding e-cigs would be a lot more difficult to pass if A) there's already language specifying that e-cigarette use is NOT smoking and B) the legislators have already received TRUTHFUL information and testimony from constituents and been educated BEFORE the ANTZ get to them??

4) See #3 plus even if it doesn't preempt local governments from making their own laws, it sets an example for them at a state level and sets a precedence for other states. Additionally, chances are most local governments don't even have their own local smoking bans and just follow the state law.
I just don't see any valid or reasonable argument against supporting this bill and not to try to get similar (maybe better) bills introduced in states where the ANTZ haven't already got a proposed ban inclusion started.

I got a letter back from my district's state senator, Jim Holeprin and he implied that the ANTZ are already actively trying to get a bill started in Wisconsin (where there was supposedly "no controversy" and "no problem" and Senator Grothman was "creating the problem" by introducing this clarification) to include e-cigarettes in smoking bans in Wisconsin. He said in his letter to me:
Some groups are calling for new legislation to specify that these electronic devices should be categorized as "smoking" and included in the ban. A measure like this has not yet been introduced, and may not be anytime this session.

That tells us that just because we haven't seen legislation introduced yet doesn't mean they aren't actively working behind the scenes to do so! The senator just basically admitted as such. Do we really think that having the bill specifically exempting e-cigarettes is a waste of time and energy here? Wouldn't it be just as much or maybe even more time and energy fighting the legislation to get them INCLUDED once they get it introduced?? Why are we just sitting back and letting them do this and not fighting until the problem is all too real and nearly impossible to fix at that point?

His next paragraph states:
The legislation you want me to support would make present law "clearer" by emphasizing that "smokeless" electronic devices are exempted from the statewide smoking ban (even though they are already excluded.) The exclusion has not been challenged anywhere that I know of.

Ummm...didn't he just state in the previous paragraph that there are groups calling for just such legislation??

He stated in his letter:
I was pleased to support the state smoking ban which was enacted almost two years ago...I believe last session's statewide smoking was a solid piece of legislation that attracted good support in the legislature, and has been implemented statewide without much controversy at all. Therefore, I am hesitant to see any changes to the new law that this time, because opening up the smoking issue could result in outcomes that are unpredictable and unwelcome.

Then he says:
If electronic cigarette use starts to become more prevalent, and if its use in public places starts to be challenged, then I would certainly consider supporting a clarification of the law.

OK, so, what if in the meantime the ANTZ get someone to support legislation to INCLUDE e-cigarettes? He doesn't say he would not support that, especially since he clearly supported the smoking ban. And "clarification" could come to mean that they ARE included!

The fact of the matter is, that not having e-cigarette use included in existing smoking bans has NOT protected them one iota from the law being changed TO include them (usually in the definition of "smoking.") So, why are we still acting like it somehow benefits or protects us that most smoking ban language does not presently include e-cigarettes? It hasn't really helped stop most of the amendments to include e-cigs in bans from getting passed. The fact that most laws don't include references to e-cigarettes is proving to be just as much of a hindrance to us, because the lack of language is leaving the door open for them to ADD the language. How could having e-cigarettes formally addressed as being exempt NOT make it harder to add that language?

Can someone tell me what I am missing here?