Users and sellers of electronic cigarettes, which are far less harmful than tobacco-burning ones, are often filled with enthusiasm for their new method of nicotine consumption, popularly referred to as vaping.
Ron Rotatori, who owns a vaping shop in Wildwood, says he cut his half-century-long cigarette habit from two packs to just two cigarettes a day by vaping. His enthusiasm and business led him to create a Vaping at the Shore expo with the help of the Wildwoods Convention Center, which had been planned for this past Saturday.
Joseph Vitale, a Democratic state senator from Middlesex County, has an enthusiasm, too. His is for a moral crusade against vaping, even though the science so far strongly indicates that substituting vaping for smoking can provide a health benefit.
Vitale sponsored a 2010 amendment to the Smoke-Free Air Act that made New Jersey the first state in the nation to ban the use of e-cigarettes in indoor public spaces and workplaces. His party pushed the bill through the Legislature without much public input or engagement, and in the absence of scientific studies supporting the crusaders' claim that vaping should be treated the same as smoking.
In 2014, in fact, a study by a Drexel University professor found "no health concerns for users or bystanders" from e-cigarette use. The few chemicals in vaping - compared with thousands in tobacco smoke - are at levels far too low to pose a health risk.
Vaping is relatively new, and more research should be done, to be sure. But absent an indication that it's anywhere near as harmful as smoking or chewing tobacco, or drinking alcohol for that matter, why would New Jersey politicians be so keen to suppress it?
Here's a hint: Vaping isn't taxed and may not be easily taxed, certainly not as easily taxed as cigarettes. The state's smokers cough up $2.70 for each pack of cigarettes.
Michael Siegel, a Boston University physician and professor of community health sciences, says "electronic cigarettes represent one of the greatest threats to cigarette smoking in many years."
Having armed his crusade with a legal weapon, Vitale has been prowling the state looking to use it on those who would vape instead of smoke. When he showed up at a vaping convention in Edison, police issued participants tickets imposing $50,000 in fines.
Vitale and fellow crusaders found out about the Wildwood expo and judged the plans of the Wildwoods Convention Center for vaping samples to be offered outdoors to be in violation of the indoor ban, too. The threat of massive ticketing was enough to prompt Rotatori to call off the expo.
The South Jersey members of Vitale's party have been silent as their region has been deprived of a convention with 240 vendors and thousands of attendees. But Rotatori's enthusiasm is unabated. He's already planning a wholly outdoor expo for next year.
Look for this battle to continue until vaping becomes mainstream - which means its science gets more settled, large corporations get more involved and governments finish their push to regulate and tax it.
Funny how government judges that personally harmful behaviors are bad and must be prohibited … until they can be taxed and managed indefinitely through regulation.