The New York City Council health commission met Wednesday to discuss whether a ban on e-cigarettes in public places would improve city health and safety, or if such a law would encroach on the rights of those who claim the electronic versions of cigarettes help them kick their tobacco habit.
Opponents of e-cigarettes argue that it could easily be a “gateway” to actual smoking, especially for young people. Though e-cigarette makers claim the vapor that is used is entirely safe, not enough research has been done to provide evidence either way. “I’m just not willing to wait for Big Tobacco to completely take over the electronic cigarette industry, and then you’ll get nothing out of Washington, because people are bought and paid for,” Councilman James F. Gennaro, the main advocate for and sponsor of the bill that would ban e-cigs, told The New York Times.
Anemona Hartocollis of the The New York Times described the scene at the City Council health committee Wednesday, where e-cigarette advocates brought their own to puff, as if to prove their point. “Unlike smoke from regular cigarettes, which would have formed a fetid smog over the room, the plumes from these cigarettes left only the most fleeting impression before evaporation,” Hartocollis writes. “The point of the theatrical provocateurs seemed to be that e-cigarettes were innocuous and legal, and should stay that way.”
The New York City health commissioner, Dr. Thomas A. Farley, said during the council that he could not guarantee if the fine particles and chemicals of e-cigarettes were entirely safe, as they are such a new invention and haven’t been researched fully. “Does it help people quit, or does it help people not quit?” he asked, according to the Times.
Recently, New York City raised the legal age of purchasing cigarettes to 21. Mayor Bloomberg is notorious for his strict attitude about smoking in public, which has already been banned in parks, offices, and several outdoor areas in the city.
There is inconclusive evidence about the safety and health risks of e-cigarettes, though the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) did report in September that the use of e-cigarettes among middle and high school students has doubled from 2011 to 2012. Currently minors are able to purchase e-cigarettes, worrying health officials that since the vaporized smoke is laced with nicotine, it will ultimately be a gateway into real tobacco products. “The increased use of e-cigarettes by teens is deeply troubling,” CDC Director Tom Frieden said in the release. “Nicotine is a highly addictive drug… [T]eens who start with e-cigarettes may be condemned to struggling with a lifelong addiction to nicotine and conventional cigarettes.”
However, another study presented at the American Association for Cancer Research found that teens whose first experience was smoking was with e-cigarettes did not go on to smoke real tobacco. Out of 1,300 college students, 43 percent said their first experience was an e-cigarette; only one person reported going onto actual cigarettes.
Chicago has already seriously considered a ban on e-cigarettes in public, and currently Boston does not allow e-smoking (or vaping) in workplaces. E-cigarettes are not allowed on Amtrak trains, either. “We certainly believe we have come a long way in protecting people from the dangers of cigarette smoke in public places,” American Lung Association vice president Erika Sward told ABC News. “We don’t want to have people now exposed to e-cigarette second-hand emissions until we know more about them.”