N.Y. City Council Votes to Add E-Cigs to Smoking Ban

Mayor Bloomberg expected to sign bill; critics call it "step backward"

James Gennaro

James Gennaro

NEW YORK -- The New York City Council voted to add electronic cigarettes to the city's strict smoking ban on Dec. 19, in what could be the latest of many anti-tobacco measures put in place by Mayor Michael Bloomberg, reported Reuters.

The City Council's Health Committee held a public hearing on Dec. 4 on the legislation sponsored by Council Member James Gennaro and Speaker Christine Quinn. In a joint statement by Quinn, Gennaro and Council Health Chair Maria del Carmen Arroyo, they said, "Because e-cigarettes are designed to look like cigarettes, they pose a problem to business owners and threaten effective enforcement of the Smoke-Free Air Act. Furthermore, we all know that smoking is a particularly difficult habit to kick. Allowing smokers an easy way to maintain their nicotine intake indoors can make quitting even harder. Allowing the use of e-cigarettes in places where smoking is prohibited sends the wrong message to children--that smoking is safe. … Finally, exposure to the chemicals emitted by e-cigarettes, which are unregulated, poses unknown risks that we simply cannot afford to take."

Click here to view the full statement.

Only weeks after New York became the first major city to raise the legal age for buying tobacco to 21, the City Council voted 43 to 8 to add e-cigarettes to the city's Smoke-Free Air Act.

If the mayor signs the bill, which he is expected to do, smoking e-cigarettes, sometimes called "vaping," would be prohibited at public and private venues such as beaches, parks, restaurants and office buildings after 120 days.

City Council speaker, Christine Quinn, who sponsored the bill, said at a press conference that the public use of e-cigarettes threatens to undermine enforcement of anti-smoking laws because their appearance is similar to traditional cigarettes and could "re-normalize smoking in public places."

Critics of the law contend that such a ban would do more harm than good.

Richard Carmona, a former U.S. Surgeon General and a current board member at NJOY, one of America's largest e-cigarette manufacturers, sent a letter to the council recently to urge rejection of 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," Carmona wrote.

"We believe this is somewhat of a knee-jerk reaction and doesn't give e-cigs the benefit of the doubt that we think they deserve. We believe as the health benefits and reduced-risk proposition of e-cigs continue to be better understood and widely accepted, citywide bans should slow or even reverse," said Bonnie Herzog, managing director of beverage, tobacco and convenience store research for Wells Fargo Securities LLC, New York, in a separate statement.

The debate over risks versus benefits of e-cigarettes is far from settled, but a study published recently in the British medical journal, The Lancet, said they are as effective as nicotine patches for smokers trying to kick the habit.

Three states--Utah, North Dakota and New Jersey--have already passed legislation banning e-cigarettes wherever smoking is prohibited.