When is a smoke not a smoke?

I’ve been a smoker for about 12 years now.

I started smoking in college, like a lot of people do. And considering the amount of college friends who have stopped smoking, unless someone offers them a cigarette, it seems like college is the place a lot of people stop smoking too. Or stop buying cigarettes, anyway.

I know it’s bad for me. I?know a lot of the things I do are bad for me; it just isn’t enough to make me want to quit. I’m a firm believer in the “you never know what the future holds” mentality, for better or for worse.

What keeps me from quitting, more than the saved money or the health benefits, is that I just like smoking.

Yeah, you’re not supposed to say that unless you’re the vaguely foreign bad guy in some direct-to-Netflix action movie, but I?really do.

I definitely like it more than wearing a patch, chewing nicotine gum or taking a medication that just might cause “changes in behavior, agitation, depressed mood, suicidal thoughts or actions.” How is that better than smoking?

But then I heard about e-cigarettes.

When they first hit the market a couple years ago the ad campaign was strong. No smoke, just vapor. They look like a regular cigarette and they provide all the fun of smoking with drastically reduced health risks.

And, like most great ad campaigns, it was mostly a lie.

After trying a few of them I found they do not simulate smoking a cigarette; they simulate smoking a wet cigarette while it is raining but you don’t want to go back inside because you still have three minutes left on your break so you try to make it work.

Not exactly the relaxing situation I’ve come to expect from all the cigarette ads I see in the comically outdated magazines lining my doctor’s office.

But I haven’t written off e-cigarettes because they’re a new technology; give them a couple years of trial and error development and somebody is going to develop an e-cigarette that is indistinguishable from smoking a convential cigarette.

Then I’ll quit smoking.

But, thanks to our state Attorney General Tom Miller, I might as well keep smoking regular cigarettes.

You see Attorney General Miller is joining an increasing chorus of people saying that e-cigarettes should be included in all statewide non-smoking laws. In fact Miller recently has said that Iowa’s Smoke-free Air Act, enacted in 2008, should be amended to include e-cigarettes.

Why, exactly?

Back in 2008 I remember being somewhat furious about the smoking ban. Mostly because it meant that I was no longer able to smoke in bars; and that the idea of a bar owner not being able to make that decision on their own about a legal product is dictatorial.

But the proponents of the smoking ban had a pretty good argument: smoking can be dangerous to people that weren’t smoking.

So the smoking ban was enacted, and everyone stopped smoking and bars became a bastion of high minded conversation and community activism and in no way were still places where one drunk guy plays the same Skynyrd song on the jukebox over and over while nine girls dressed exactly the same admonish the bartender for not stocking bubble gum flavored vodka and you’re trapped in a conversation with an aged rail worker explaining how his life is infinitely harder than yours and you just wish you could have a smoke like you used to, back when this was America.

I did not support the smoking ban.

But now there is a technology, in its nascent state, that may greatly reduce and/or eliminate the health concerns of smoking while ensuring that no other patrons could be effected by second hand smoke … since there is no smoke.

So let’s ban that too!

The only argument I’ve heard presented by Miller or any e-cigarette detractors is that “we don’t know enough about them yet.”

So … why don’t you study them?

Seriously. This is a new industry that has the chance to take a large portion of tobacco companies’ profits. According to their own earnings report R.J. Reynolds (the number two tobacco company in the US) made $2.135 billion dollars in the third quarter of 2013. Three months. $2 billion.

If it turns out that science says it’s significantly less harmful than conventional smoking then let’s start making them here in Iowa and drain some of that $2 billion from R.J. Reynolds!

What if the study proves that they are as dangerous as conventional cigarettes? Then the “exile e-cigarettes” lobby has exactly what they need to get e-cigarettes added to the Smoke-free Air Act: scientific proof. Then the e-smokers (vapors, if you will) will be outside with the rest of us.

What doesn’t need to happen is a prophylactic exile like Attorney General Miller is proposing. With an admitted nonexistent scientific basis for their expulsion from public places the only reason left would be that you just don’t like smoking … or actions that resemble smoking.

Well, too bad. You need a little bit of a tough skin to walk around in the land of the free and the home of the brave; and your sensibilities being offended by the mere sight of someone inhaling a substance does not even come close to crossing the threshold necessary for legislative action.

The more you push e-cigarettes to the margins the less development this new technology will see, and less people will choose vapor over smoke.

Since all anecdotal evidence suggests e-cigarettes are less harmful then maybe it’s time to find out once and for all or just leave the vapor fans alone. Besides, the last thing we need are more people standing around the smoking pit; it gets crowded enough out there during the fifth performance of “Sweet Home Alabama.”