E-cigarettes might be taking off here in Philly, but it may just be the beginning of the end for vaping in New York. By a vote of 43 to 8, the New York City Council voted yesterday to ban the use of e-cigarettes in public spaces in Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s latest effort to get nicotine out of his city.
Once Bloomberg signs the bill, e-cigarette use will be prohibited at both private and public spaces like restaurants, offices, parks, and beaches after 120 days. At that point, e-cigarettes as a nicotine delivery device would be added to the city’s Smoke-Free Air Act, despite not actually outputting any smoke.
But, interestingly, bill sponsor and City Council Speaker Christine Quinn says that the bill will go a long way in helping enforce anti-smoking laws that keep cigarettes out of those areas. E-cigs, she says, simply look just too much like the real thing to keep enforcement rolling smoothly. As she tells CBS New York:
“Because many of the E-cigarettes are designed to look like cigarettes and be used just like them, they can lead to confusion or confrontation.”
So, in that sense, the crux of the e-cig ban doesn’t seem to be on public health per se, but rather on ignorance of what e-cigarettes are and how they operate by the enforcement arm of the law. Her statement is, in essence, the embodiment of the “if it quacks like a duck…” argument we’ve seen escalate the e-cig issue into the mess we’re in now.
NJOY board member and former US Surgeon General Richard Carmona perhaps put it best in a letter urging Council to reject the bill:
"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,"
Which is to say, while the risks of personal vaporizer use are not yet fully known, they do represent a nicotine delivery system miles less harmful than the traditional cigarette. To persecute them now will only strengthen the grip Big Tobacco has on smokers simply by removing an option to help them quit.
We are, in essence, burning ourselves. Let’s just hope Philly doesn’t get any ideas.