New York’s City Council has approved extending the city’s strict smoking ban to include electronic cigarettes, which emit a vapor.
The measure was pushed by outgoing Mayor Michael Bloomberg and backed by public health advocates in the city. It comes just weeks after New York became the first major city to raise the age for buying tobacco to 21. Earlier last month, New York City Health Commissioner Thomas Farley said that “more research is needed on electronic cigarettes,” but that “waiting to act could jeopardize the progress we have made over the last few years.”
Since 2002, New York has had a ban in place on smoking in bars, restaurants, parks, beaches and plazas. Councilman James Gennaro, one of the lead sponsors of the proposal to ban e-cigarettes in public places, and the commissioner, Dr. Thomas A. Farley, said that a loophole in current law allowing for electronic cigarettes was sowing confusion.
“People are lighting up electronic cigarettes in restaurants, creating conflict with other patrons and waiters who have to mediate,” noted Gennaro. “Children who could not differentiate between regular and electronic smoking were getting the message that smoking is socially acceptable.”
“We see these electronic cigarettes are really starting to proliferate, and it’s unacceptable,” Gennaro continued. “I get reports of people smoking cigarettes in public libraries. Certainly, they’re becoming more common in restaurants and bars.”
But the makers of electronic cigarettes say that they are safe because they do not burn tar or tobacco, and they signaled their readiness to fight the proposed ban vigorously. They say the e-cigarettes are a good alternative to regular smoking for people who cannot quit.”
After having undertaken a number of popular health initiatives since assuming office 12 years ago, just like predecessor Rudy Giuliani, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg has come under fire for taking increasing liberties with his power to limit his constituents’ liberties. Now a tenure in office that opened with welcome limits on smoking in public places and the mandatory inclusion of calorie information on restaurant menus will close with a ban on electronic cigarettes in public indoor spaces that Bloomberg signed into law after the New York’s City Council vote.
The city already has one of the strictest smoking bans in America; since 2002, smoking has been prohibited in bars, restaurants, workplaces and stores, with the addition of parks and public plazas in 2011. But these measures were implemented to protect those other than smokers, who previously had no regard for the harm they were causing bystanders with their secondhand smoke.
There’s very little scientific evidence, however, to suggest e-cigarettes are unhealthy for nonsmokers. The general consensus is that, at the very least, they’re not harmful on the level of tobacco cigarettes, bolstering claims by opponents that this newest ordinance is a case of nanny-state overreach.
In case you’re not entirely sure what smoking e-cigarettes — also called “vaping” – entails, e-cigs emit doses of vaporized nicotine that Prevention.com explains contain propylene glycol (PEG), the same substance found in theatrical smoke. What scientists are unsure of are traces of other chemicals that could be harmful.
According to Medical News Today, “Manufacturers say (e-cigarettes) are an alternative for tobacco smokers who want to avoid inhaling smoke.” And they’re reportedly as effective as patches in helping smokers quit. Regardless, the council was firm, voting 43 to 8 in favor of the measure.
Former US Surgeon General (and board member for e-cig manufacturer NJOY) Richard Carmona wrote a letter before the vote advocating on behalf of e-cigarettes. “I’m extremely concerned that a well-intentioned but scientifically unsupported effort like the current proposal to include electronic cigarettes in New York’s current smoking ban, could constitute a giant step backward in the effort to defeat tobacco smoking.”
He’s not the only one fired up about the decision. Miguel Martin, president of e-cig manufacturer Logic Technology: “It’s really unfortunate. I find their line of reasoning flawed. It’s not based on science and there’s no foundation for this.”
The FDA says it has yet to evaluate e-cigarettes for safety or effectiveness, though it has invited the Electronic Cigarette Association to work with the agency for approval, which is why over 200 e-cigarette smokers staged a protest this month, marching to City Hall and informing the council of these facts, in hopes of halting the measure from advancing.
They and others believe the New York City Council has acted prematurely, given there’s virtually no basis for any of its claims. That didn’t stop the head of the American Lung Association from stating, “We’re grateful that New Yorkers will not be exposed to potentially unsafe secondhand emission from electronic cigarettes.”
Key word being “potentially” – the scientific data on which such decisions are supposed to be based doesn’t exist yet.