The cost of forest fires is out of control. Every year, forest fires result in nearly $700 million in property damage nationwide. On top of that, fire suppression tactics — what fire officials do to contain wildfires once they've started — carry a price tag of as much as $1 billion a year. And that number will reach $1.8 billion by 2018, according to a recent report from the U.S. Forest Service.
No doubt something must be done. Humans cause 90 percent of wildfires, and cigarettes are central among those causes. Smoking is appropriately banned in national and state parks, but last month the National Park Service took the wrongheaded step of banning electronic cigarettes in national parks as well.
What was the logic in making this decision? If the Park Service thinks banning e-cigarettes will do anything to prevent forest fires, they need to think again. Unlike tobacco cigarettes, e-cigarettes involve no combustion and emit no smoke or ash — thus, no fire hazard. The water-based vapor that e-cigarettes produce dissipates quickly, and there's no cigarette butt waste to discard.
The best electronic cigarette products are, in fact, about as much of a fire hazard as any other electronic device. Like the mobile phone in your pocket or your digital e-reader, e-cigarettes are a highly engineered, technically sophisticated product. Would the Park Service consider prohibiting smartphones in the same places where cigarettes aren't allowed? Not a chance.
We actually have a shot at improving fire safety in parks if only the Park Service and others would embrace electronic cigarettes instead of shunning them. E-cigarettes are a safer alternative to smoking for those already addicted to nicotine. And prohibiting cigarettes in parks has done little to prevent smokers from getting their fix — and continuing to start fires — anyway.
An early study bears this out. In Massachusetts, researchers in 2014 found that the number of residential fires dropped by nearly 30 percent after a state law required only "fire-safe cigarettes" to be sold in the state. This speaks to fires at home and not in parks, true, but it shows the efficacy of supporting a fire-safe product.
And in an incident this summer in Soap Lake, Wash., it was an electronic cigarette — used as a fire-safe alternative to a pack of regular cigarettes — that helped police negotiators draw out an armed suspect from a wooded area where he was hiding. When the suspect had asked for a pack of cigarettes, police (rightly) denied the request, not wanting to start a fire. Luckily someone had the presence of mind to suggest an e-cigarette.
People are tired of knee-jerk, bureaucratic moves that make little sense to anyone who takes the time to get the facts straight. And the facts are clear: Electronic cigarettes do not create fire hazards in parks. On the contrary, e-cigs could help prevent forest fires to begin with. And that's something we should sit up and pay attention to.
Jan Verleur is co-founder and CEO of V2, a Miami-based company that designs, produces, distributes and supports vaping products. Thinking of submitting an op-ed to the Washington Examiner? Be sure to read our guidelines on submissions.