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Tuesday, March 3, 2015 |  Madison, WI: 30.0° F  Overcast
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Emily's Post: Why are Wisconsin newspapers shilling for e-cigarettes?
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On July 5 the state-wide smoking ban will officially go into effect for Wisconsin. It will help to create a more equitable business situation for bars and taverns in neighboring towns by eliminating the patchwork regulations that have existed up until this point. The ban will also foster a less hazardous environment for patrons and employees of clubs and taverns.

Naturally, plenty of people are trying to find ways to work around the law and get their nicotine fixes anyway. Some of those methods are perfectly sensible, like creating enclosed, outdoor smoking areas. But there's one particular circumvention that's being done with all the lying and obfuscation of the good ol' Big Tobacco PR campaigns of yesteryear.

Electronic cigarettes will be legal to use indoors even under the ban, and area companies are looking to take full advantage of both the product and its potential users.

What are e-cigarettes? Well, their manufacturers would like you to know them simply as the "tar-free and safe alternative to smoking" and not ask any further questions. They are tar and tobacco-free, yes, but what they do contain doesn't exactly make them all fuzzy bunnies and lollipops. There's artificial flavoring, vaporized nicotine and, as it turns out, a few other chemicals like diethylene glycol, an ingredient used in antifreeze.

That's why the FDA is (rightly) trying to impose tougher regulations on the product, though they're being met with considerable resistance. Some folks want to see e-cigs regulated as tobacco products, others as a drug or device, and the manufacturers seem intent on keeping their cylindrical cash cows free of any pesky oversight or regulation at all.

I don't smoke, it hurts me to see people I care about who are addicted, and I'm 100% for the indoor smoking ban. But I also understand that some people are just going to smoke no matter what, dammit, and if an e-cigarette is going to get them through their day, so be it. My problem, and it's a big one, is that the things are being touted as a safer alternative to cigarettes when they are, far as I can tell, still perfectly dangerous and addictive. Even the American Medical Association agrees they need tighter regulation because of that.

Not only that, but there's some evidence that they're being marketing and sold to children; many of the websites where the e-cigarettes can be bought have no age verification process, and the product is also sold at mall kiosks and offers flavors like bubblegum and peaches and cream. Which isn't to say that adults don't like candy-flavored nicotine, too, but c'mon.

As the evidence mounts that e-cigarettes are not the "healthy alternative" they're cracked up to be, as the FDA works to see that the manufacturers are held accountable to what all goes into the product, and as states like California sue those makers for making false claims, Johnson Creek Enterprises is ramping up its production of the "smoke juice" that goes into them.

The company doesn't make the actual e-cigarettes, only what's inside. And they're excited about the smoking ban, which is likely to increase their appeal and market share as they plan to offer the product at bars, restaurants, bowling alleys and the like.

And that's all well and good, I suppose, and owner Christian Berkey says he "looks forward to working with the FDA" if and when regulations do come down.

What I find odd, though, is that so much positive press is being given to a business that is essentially just helping to get and keep people addicted to a dangerous drug (that would be nicotine), and to use a product that is, thus far, being allowed to be sold to people without proper health and safety testing or oversight.

Both the WSJ and MJS articles linked above dedicate the lion's share of text to what amounts to an elaborate press release touting Johnson Creek Enterprises and the glorious electronic cigarette. They list the delicious flavors on offer, as well as pricing, how to get them, and rattle off a litany of perceived positive aspects ("What appears to be smoke dissipates quickly, and there is no lingering smell. Matches and ashtrays aren't needed, and the cost is considerably less than traditional cigarettes.").

You have to dig to the very bottom of both articles before coming across anything suggesting that e-cigarettes might be a dangerous proposition, or that any controversy about them exists at all.

And I can't find any other articles in either paper talking about the issue.

It seems a tad irresponsible to me that so much press is being dedicated to what comes perilously close to cheerleading puff pieces. It may be easy to get distracted by the story of small Wisconsin business done nationally good, but what it comes down to is a product that aims to take advantage of smokers at a time when they might be better served by serious and well-funded cessation programs, that has almost zero health and safety regulations, and that contains a well-known and highly addictive drug.

Bribery and coercion at the Republican Convention? Say it ain't so!

Who knew long-time dirt developer Terrence Wall would turn out to be so useful? And by 'useful' I mean 'entertaining,' because so far there's nothing of substance to back up what Wall said. The former candidate for senate went on the air last week and made allegations against the Ron Johnson campaign and the entire nomination process.

Wall claimed that "the process was manipulated and said he was told by delegates that they were offered a free hotel room in exchange for staying overnight and voting for Johnson. Wall, a Middleton real estate developer, said there was intimidation of one of his employees to vote for Johnson."

Johnson's people have, of course, dismissed the whole thing as a case of the sore losers, which could absolutely be true. But I can't say that either scenario would surprise me-neither would a case that fell somewhere in the middle, with a little bit of both being true.

Dave Westlake, the only other candidate still vying for the senate seat against Johnson, has said that he didn't personally witness any coercion of vote tampering at the convention. He does, however, believe that "Wall…put a lot of effort into trying to win the party's endorsement and has the right to investigate."

Ultimately, this may just end up being another pissing match between politicians nothing new, really but it does strike me as a symptom of the larger illness that's been crippling the GOP as a whole in recent years. Their strategy of lockstep ideology seems to have imploded, sending shrapnel into state and local chapters of the party and causing an uptick in infighting and backbiting.

Couldn't have happened to a nicer group, really.

Worth Watching

There's a lot of news on the gay rights front this week, as the Wisconsin Supreme Court is set to rule on whether or not the state constitutional amendment banning gay marriage back in 2006 was valid or not, a state appeals court ruled that gay parents don't have equal rights in terms of adopted children, and the candidates for governor all dance a bit around discussing gay rights in general. Of course, the first has the potential to fix the second, and the third likely won't change until the near-tie in the polls is broken. Fingers crossed, though.

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