A free market think tank is blasting the National Park Service for banning electronic cigarettes, arguing vapor emitted from e-cigs is as harmless as eggplants or tomatoes.
The R Street Institute sent a letter to National Park Service Director Jonathan B. Jarvis on Thursday criticizing the ban.
"There is no need for such restrictions on the use of e-cigarettes and no public health or environmental benefit from doing so," wrote Dr. Joel L. Nitzkin, senior fellow for tobacco policy at R Street Institute. "E-cigarettes involve no combustion. There is no fire hazard."
"As noted in your press release, exhaled vapor contains far less nicotine than secondhand cigarette smoke," he said. "While exhaled cigarette smoke is extremely hazardous, almost none of this risk is attributable to the nicotine."
Nitzkin said the ban is unnecessary because the trace amount of nicotine in vapor from e-cigs is the equivalent to what can be found in "eggplants, tomatoes, potatoes, peppers, and other common foods."
"I am not aware of any public-health authority ever urging restriction of intake of these vegetables or other nicotine-containing foods by infants, pregnant women, or others to avoid brain damage, lung damage, or addiction," he said.
The Park Service announced Monday that it was banning the use of e-cigarettes in all national parks immediately in the name of public "health and safety."
"Protecting the health and safety of our visitors and employees is one of the most critical duties of the National Park Service," Jarvis said. "We are therefore extending the restrictions currently in place protecting visitors and employees from exposure to tobacco smoke to include exposure to vapor from electronic smoking devices."
The release noted that e-cigarette vapor contains nicotine "at a level roughly one-tenth of that found in second-hand smoke."
The American Vaping Association, which advocates the use of e-cigarettes as an effective tool to quit smoking, also was critical of the Park Service’s ban.
"Outdoor smoking bans in parks can at least somewhat be justified by the risk of fires, but vapor products pose no more of a fire risk than a cellphone battery," said Gregory Conley, president of the American Vaping Association trade group.
"This behavior is shameful and any enforcement of the ban will constitute a great misuse of government resources," he said. "The National Park Service should leave ex-smokers alone and let them camp and hike in peace."