Dick Durbin bashes Hollywood stars for using e-cigs, but OKs medical marijuana

Grae Stafford Freelance Photographer
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Illinois Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin joined Democratic Sens. Sherrod Brown, Richard Blumenthal and Ed Markey Tuesday in a letter to NBCUniversal and the Hollywood Foreign Press Association expressing “concern regarding the prominent display of electronic cigarettes at Sunday night’s Golden Globe Awards.”

Why the fuss? Because Julia Louis-Dreyfuss and Leonardo DiCaprio were both shown enjoying e-cigs during the broadcast.

“Unfortunately, this year, many young viewers saw notable displays of e-cigarette use throughout the awards show, including the opening monologue and repeated shots of celebrities smoking e-cigarettes,” the letter scolds.

Durbin maintains his hectoring tone throughout the letter, arguing that the Golden Globes showcased a “glamorization of smoking.”

But a check into Durbin’s history of constituent correspondence reveals he is, in fact, comfortable with a certain kind of smoking.

In March 2007, responding to a letter regarding legalizing marijuana, Durbin’s office said, “I believe that marijuana may have a medical application when prescribed by a doctor in specific cases, such as glaucoma and the alleviation of pain in some patients with chronic illnesses.”

“I believe that federal policy would benefit from a carefully crafted medical use exemption for marijuana that includes adequate safeguards against abuse,” the letter continues.

In August 2007, Durbin reaffirmed his view regarding the use of medical marijuana, writing, “I oppose the legalization of marijuana for general use. At the same time, I believe that [cannabis] may have medical applications when prescribed by a doctor in specific cases, such as glaucoma or the alleviation of pain in some patients with chronic illnesses.”

The letter also tells the story of Suzanne Pfeil, who was raided by federal agents in 2002 for having using marijuana to mitigate the pain of Post-Polio Syndrome.

A 2011 study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found that 19 percent of all adults (43.8 million people) were currently smokers, with 69 percent of those wishing to quit completely. E-cigs, which use nicotine-infused liquid converted into steam via a vaporizer, have become increasingly popular with smokers looking to cut costs (liquid refills for e-cigarette are many times cheaper than a pack of 20), and looking to wean off of real cigarettes.

For many smokers, the battery powered replacements provide a handier and more fulfilling way to quit than nicotine gum, patches and going “cold turkey.” The CDC reports that use of electronic cigarettes by adults in the U.S. doubled “between 2010 and 2011.”

E-cig users have been the subject of increasing pressure, with some jurisdictions classifying them the same as real cigarettes. The New York City Council voted 43-8 to “ban the use of e-cigarettes in public places where smoking is prohibited, including offices, restaurants, hospitals, parks, and beaches.”

Chicago is the latest city to give the cold shoulder to “vapers.” On Monday the Chicargo Tribune reported that Democratic Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s stated intention to fold e-cigs into the restrictions covered under the Clean Indoor Air Act alongside other tobacco products has been approved.

After the New York decision, Jim Raporte, president of the blu e-Cig company, said, “We are disappointed with the City Council’s decision today, as this amendment not only imposes unnecessary and unfair restrictions on people who have made the personal choice to switch to electronic cigarettes, but it also discourages a viable smoking alternative with significant harm reduction potential.”

Meanwhile, as cities crack down on e-cigs use, marijuana legislation is loosening — a paradox that may be rooted in monetary concerns. The CDC reports that “in 2013, states will collect $25.7 billion from tobacco taxes and legal settlements, but states will spend only 1.8 percent of the $25.7 billion on prevention and cessation programs.” With e-cig use gaining ground, those tax revenues would inevitably decline.

The value of the nascent marijuana industry is hard to calculate due to its quasi-legal nature, but a 2010 CNBC report estimated it could range from $10 billion to over $120 billion per year. A Pew poll in 2013 put its value around $1.5 billion.

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Grae Stafford