"Essentially, there is absolutely no evidence that e-cigarette vapor poses any significant threat to public health," said Conley. "The antifreeze chemical was found in one of the 18 cartridges and tested in an amount that was less than 1 percent. Additionally, the amount of the chemical diethylene glycol found by the FDA would take thousands of cartridges to reach a toxic level."
Conley cites the publication Tobacco Control, a premier tobacco science journal in the US with no tobacco industry ties, as the leading evidence in the case for e-cigarettes. The study, funded by the National Institute of Health, tested 17 different brands of e-cigarettes for chemicals known to cause harm in secondhand smoke.
"These amounts were nearly identical to the amounts in the control product, or the FDA approved nicotine inhaler," said Conley. "They are trace levels, and anyone who has been in a room with an e-cigarette knows that there is a vast difference in comparison to a normal cigarette."
A study by the Fraunhofer Wilhelm-Klauditz-Institut in Braunschweig, Germany found similar results, reporting that the release of toxins from e-cigarettes were marginal to non-existent. In fact, researchers attributed many of the low level chemicals detected in the tests, such as formaldehyde and acetone, to the test subjects, since our lungs naturally exhale these chemicals in small amounts.
Conley says e-cigarettes not only provide a safe alternative, but also offer a public promotion of smoking cessation by illustrating the addicting effects of nicotine.
"It's a walking advertisement to show how addictive cigarettes are," Conley said. "The fact that you have to buy one of these things to quit smoking, with a battery and everything, it's ridiculous."
Equating e-cigarettes and traditional cigarettes does tend to disregard the potential benefits safer nicotine alternatives can have on addicts. The language of the FDA and the DPH appears to dismiss the advantages of e-cigarettes over smoking. While issues certainly arise with the lack of regulation and quality control of e-cigarettes, much of the discussion from these groups pertains to reversing social views on smoking.
"The major concern for us is about social norms," Derek Smith, a health program coordinator at the Tobacco Free Project, told us. "People get confused about the use of these products in public where they might think tobacco use is allowed. That's one of the major concerns because there are limits to where people can safely smoke indoors. It's the idea of a copycat item."
According to Smith, AT&T Park, San Francisco General Hospital, and the San Francisco Airport Commission have all already banned the use of e-cigarettes on their premises. Some Bay Area cities, such as Petaluma, have already classified vaping under their smoking ordinances. In Canada, the sale of e-cigarettes is entirely prohibited due to a lack of regulation and quality control, while cigarettes remain legal.
FDA regulation could certainly alleviate much of the pressure e-cigarette companies face from the public. However, if a safe e-cigarette is proven to exist via an official FDA evaluation, organizations like the DPH may still not allow public vaping for the sake of remaining strictly against the use of tobacco related products in public places.
Many of the arguments against the use of e-cigarettes are seemingly arbitrary to the discussion of public use since San Francisco's public policy holds so much blunt hostility toward anything tobacco related (but, of course, anything marijuana related is okay with the city). Oddly, e-cigarettes continue to get flack from the FDA, while other nicotine delivery systems such as patches and gum are FDA approved.