By Brad Friedman on 7/14/2014, 2:00pm PT  

Missouri's Democratic Governor Jay Nixon had an opportunity to encourage people to quit smoking. He didn't take it. In fact, he actually made the choice to help encourage people to continue smoking, despite the fact the deadly habit kills nearly half a million people in the U.S. alone each year.

On Monday, the Governor vetoed Senate Bill 841. While the legislation would have restricted the sale of nicotine vaping products such as e-cigarettes to minors, and required sellers to receive a license from the state, it also exempted the non-lethal devices and products --- which are quickly becoming very popular as a method to quit smoking --- from existing laws and taxes levied against harmful tobacco products.

"This bill appears to be nothing more than a thinly disguised and cynical attempt to exempt e-cigarettes from taxes and regulations protecting public health," Nixon said in his veto message.

This sort of dangerous short-sightedness, unfortunately, is not unusual for Democrats, of late. It also flies in the face of both science and common sense...

Earlier this year, for example, we interviewed Democratic Los Angeles City Councilmember Paul Koretz the day after his bill to ban vaping in places where cigarettes are also banned had been unanimously approved by the L.A. City Council. The ordinance bars the use of the devices "at farmers' markets, parks, recreational areas, beaches, indoor workplaces such as bars and nightclubs, outdoor dining areas and other places where lighting up is banned."

While Koretz was unable to cite evidence of any actual dangers of e-cigs --- in fact, the science to date shows quite the opposite --- he admitted, near the end of our conversation, that current evidence suggests what he describes as a "99% possibility" that vaping is "much safer" than smoking.

He objected to our description of his bill as dangerous, despite the documented use of vaping by millions to quit smoking. Recent scientific studies have found vaping more effective than other smoking cessation devices, such as nicotine patches and gum. Koretz also said that he didn't see the City Council's ordinance as a "ban" since vapers are still allowed to use the product "outside in the smoking area."

"If you're so easily re-introduced that you can't be anywhere near anybody smoking a cigarette," he explained, "I don't think you're very likely to stay off the tobacco habit."

In response, a caller who identified himself as having worked "in the re-hab industry for quite a few years," said that sending vapers out to a smoking lounge is akin to forcing someone trying to break a cocaine habit to go to a crack house to do it.

[PERSONAL NOTE: After decades as a very heavy smoker, and many attempts to quit using other methods and devices, I was able to quit, literally over night, thanks to vaping. I haven't had a cigarette in almost a year and a half, and don't want one. - BF]

While Democrats have backed similar bans on vaping in other major cities, making it more difficult for smokers to quit smoking, some Republicans are also on the very wrong side of this issue.

After slashing smoking prevention and cessation support by $7.5 million in 2010, New Jersey's supposedly conservative Republican Gov. Chris Christie has called for a massive new "sin tax" on e-cigarettes. More absurdly, his state Treasurer is claiming their "main concern is public health."

As we noted after L.A.'s ban was adopted by the City Council, Charles D. Connor, former president and CEO of the American Lung Association described the proposal as "misguided because it would do a public health disservice, discouraging smokers from switching to less-harmful electronic cigarettes that do not combust tobacco and therefore, do not create second-hand smoke."

"E-cigarettes are a fundamentally different product from combustible tobacco cigarettes and should not fall under the same rules and restrictions," Connor wrote in his statement. "Rather, we should encourage current smokers to move down the ladder of risk by implementing regulations that recognize these differences." He added that taking the measure to restrict e-cigs before there was reasonable evidence of health concerns "is to ignore an opportunity to save millions of smokers from a lot of harm."

But the most damning evidence against those who would make quitting smoking more difficult by obstructing the use of vaping devices may have come in May, from 53 leading scientists who sent an open letter to the World Health Organization (WHO), urging them to not treat e-cigarettes like tobacco products.

The top scientists described vaping as "part of the solution" in the fight against smoking, and said that "These products could be among the most significant health innovations of the 21st century --- perhaps saving hundreds of millions of lives."

"The urge to control and suppress them as tobacco products," they noted, "should be resisted."

"Regulators should avoid support for measures that could have the perverse effect of prolonging cigarette consumption," they wrote in their open letter. "Policies that are excessively restrictive or burdensome on lower risk products can have the unintended consequence of protecting cigarettes from competition from less hazardous alternatives, and cause harm as a result."

As if speaking directly to the L.A. City Council, and to NJ's Gov. Chris Christie, and now to Gov. Jay Nixon in MO, the highly-regarded scientists told WHO that "It is inappropriate to apply legislation designed to protect bystanders or workers from tobacco smoke to vapour products. There is no evidence at present of material risk to health from vapour emitted from e-cigarettes."

"Tobacco harm reduction is strongly consistent with good public health policy and practice and it would be unethical and harmful to inhibit the option to switch to tobacco harm reduction products," they urged the world's top health organization.

Nonetheless, it seems, not enough elected officials --- many of them Democrats, who, ironically enough, view themselves as public health advocates --- appear to be listening. Smokers who die in Missouri in the coming years may have Gov. Jay Nixon to thank for making it more difficult --- and certainly more expensive --- for them to quit their deadly habit.