Electronic cigarettes, also known as e-cigarettes, aren’t tobacco. Which of course is a big part of their appeal, both to smokers trying to quit and to nonsmokers with legitimate concerns about secondhand smoke from tobacco.

But should e-cigarettes be allowed indoors in public places?

In Wisconsin, even though there is an indoor smoking ban, using e-cigarettes indoors is allowed. But the way the law is written, “it’s a little bit murky,” said Assembly Speaker Rep. Robin Vos, R-Rochester. E-cigarettes are growing in popularity and the law should be cleared up to show they are legal, Vos said in a report in Sunday’s Journal Times.

Under the state’s indoor smoking ban, smoking is defined as burning or holding, or inhaling or exhaling smoke from any lighted piece of smoking equipment containing tobacco.

Based on that definition, e-cigarettes are allowed indoors because they don’t contain tobacco and don’t emit smoke, according to Rachel VerVelde, chief of staff for state Sen. Glenn Grothman, R-West Bend, who authored the Senate bill to clarify the law.

E-cigarettes contain water, propylene glycol, vegetable glycerin, flavors and some have nicotine, but they do not contain tobacco, said Kristin Noll-Marsh, vice president of Consumer Advocates for Smoke-Free Alternatives Association, a national nonprofit. Also, the devices don’t burn anything; they act more like a fog machine and they are safer than tobacco products, said Noll-Marsh, a Racine native who now lives in northern Wisconsin.

Arguing the other side is state Sen. Fred Risser, D-Madison, who was fighting tobacco in 1963, the year before the U.S. Surgeon General’s report on tobacco’s harmful effects. He led the fight for the indoor smoking ban which took effect in 2010, and he’s not convinced they don’t have harmful effects for nonusers.

Risser, the Capital Times reported Sunday, bristles at the suggestion that the new devices are as innocuous as Grothman suggests they are.

The bill “unwisely sends the message that maybe they’re not harmful,” Risser said. He also believes the bill is an underhanded way for the tobacco industry to reverse the decline in smoking in recent decades.

We’re uncertain about Sen. Risser’s assertions. On Sept. 9, Dr. Tom Frieden, director of the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, was asked in a teleconference about e-cigarettes.

“There’s still a lot we don’t know about e-cigarettes,” Frieden said. “There’s more than 200 brands on the market. They have different constituents. We’re still learning more about them.”

We are, as a society, in the investigative stage with regard to e-cigarettes. Some of us think that they’re harmless, some of us think that they’re harmful. Which means we’re going to need expert analysis, scientific study, before we take governmental action against them.

In a free society, you don’t need a reason to make something legal. You need a reason to make something illegal. We may have that reason in the future, but we don’t have it now. Use of an e-cigarette is called “vaping.” Let adults chose to vape if they please.

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