New York City Smoking Ban Extended To Include E-Cigarettes

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The New York City Council voted Thursday to extend its smoking ban to e-cigarettes, the popular yet widely controversial electronic alternative to cigarettes. The proposed bill passed in a vote of 43 to 8.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg is expected to sign the ban into law before he leaves office at the end of this month. The law would add the electronic devices to the city’s current smoking ban, which prohibits smoking in many public areas, both indoors and outdoors. The ban includes bars, subways and offices, as well as outdoor areas like beaches, parks and pedestrian plazas.

The new law would make New York one of the major areas to take an official stance on e-cigarettes. New Jersey, North Dakota and Utah already have statewide bans on e-cigarettes in public areas. More than 100 cities, including Boston and Seattle, also have bans in place.

Los Angeles and Chicago may follow suit. Councils in those major cities may vote as early as January on whether e-cigarettes should be banned anywhere traditional cigarettes are already prohibited.

The Lively Debate

Regulations against e-cigarettes are unlikely to slow debate around them. The product turns nicotine-laced liquid into vapor and claims to be a safer alternative to traditional smoking.

Indeed, scientific studies show that so-called vaping is less harmful than smoking cigarettes. Supporters say that allowing people to vape can give millions of Americans the opportunity to wean themselves off of smoking altogether.

“If you make it just as inconvenient to use an electronic cigarette as a tobacco cigarette, people are just going to keep smoking their Marlboros,” Craig Weiss, president and CEO of e-cigarette company NJoy, said to the New York Times.

But opponents of the product say that a less harmful product is still harmful, and that secondhand vapor, like secondhand smoke, is a dangerous pollutant. Opponents give more reasons for disliking e-cigarettes. They say that if e-cigarettes are allowed in public areas, then smokers will use it as a way around the smoking bans. It could also encourage more people, particularly teenagers, to pick up the habit.

Those who want e-cigarettes banned also point to simple confusion. Because real and electronic cigarettes look alike, people can’t easily tell whether someone is smoking or vaping, making existing cigarette bans harder to police.

With an issue like this, children always come into the mix, also. New York City councilman James Gennaro told the New York Times that children won’t differentiate between e-cigarettes and the real thing. So, allowing vaping in public would send a message to children that smoking is socially acceptable.

While the public debate goes on and individual cities and states vote on bans, something else is being done on a national level. The Wall Street Journal states that the Food and Drug Administration is considering federal regulations on e-cigarettes. Possible regulations include restricting sale to minors, stopping online sales and advertising, banning flavors, and limiting nicotine levels.