Healthcare

Park Service takes heat for e-cig ban

The National Park Service is under pressure to reverse its decision to ban electronic cigarettes in all places where tobacco smoking is prohibited on federally supervised parks.

In a letter to Park Service Director Jonathan Jarvis on Thursday, Joel Nitzkin, a senior fellow for tobacco policy at the nonpartisan D.C.-based think tank R Street Institute, said there is no need for such restrictions and no public health or environmental benefit in doing so.

"E-cigarettes involve no combustion," he said. "There is no fire hazard."

The agency issued a policy memorandum earlier this week that prohibits the use of electronic nicotine delivery systems, or vapor products, in facilities and vehicles owned or leased by the government and in national park concessions facilities.

"Protecting the health and safety of our visitors and employees is one of the most critical duties of the National Park Service," Jarvis said in a news release this week. "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 Park Service said the vapor exhaled from e-cigarettes contains nicotine at a level that roughly one-tenth of that found in second-hand smoke - nicotine that's highly addictive, toxic to developing fetuses and detrimental to fetal brain and lung development.

But Nitzkin said the amounts of nicotine in exhaled vapor is comparable to the amount of nicotine people ingest on a daily basis by eating eggplant, tomatoes, potatoes, peppers and other common foods that contain trace amounts of nicotine.

"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 in his letter.

Nitzkin went on to provide additional research to support his claims and asked to speak with whoever advised the agency to institute this policy.

R Street spokeswoman Nicole Roeberg said the institute is a think tank that's funded by a mix of corporations and corporate foundations, but she declined to say whether any of those donors are part of the burgeoning e-cigarette industry.

"We don't disclose our donors," she said. "We pledge confidentiality to them."

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