NYC Council Bans Public Vaping Because It Looks Too Much Like Smoking


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Today the New York City Council approved an ordinance that prohibits the use of e-cigarettes in all the places where smoking is prohibited, which is pretty much everywhere except private residences and some outdoor locations (not parks, though!). The ban takes effect in four months, although business owners will have another six months to post "No Vaping" signs.

Why did the city council decide to treat vaping like smoking (a policy that most Americans reject, by the way)? Not because e-cigarettes, which contain no tobacco and produce no smoke, pose a hazard to bystanders, which is the usual excuse for smoking bans, but because they look too much like regular cigarettes:

City Council Speaker Christine Quinn said the ban will make it easier to enforce the city's Smoke-Free Air Act, which banned smoking in bars, restaurants and other indoor public spaces.

"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," Quinn said.

Similarly, Councilman James Gennaro, the ban's main sponsor, worries that e-cigarettes' superficial resemblance to the tobacco-burning variety will confuse children, undermining decades of education aimed at convincing the nation's youth that smoking is dangerous and totally uncool. While these explanations are utterly implausible, they do reflect the true, subrational motivation of e-cigarette prohibitionists: They are appalled by this product because the battery-powered devices remind them of the real thing, triggering all the emotions of disgust, contempt, and self-righteousness they associate with smoking.

Yet it is this very same resemblance that makes e-cigarettes such a promising harm-reduction tool, one that mimics smoking while delivering nicotine to the lungs without the myriad toxins and carcinogens generated by tobacco combustion. Hence anyone concerned about the health effects of smoking should welcome this product. But for control freaks like Quinn and Gennaro, the cigarette form has become such a powerful symbol of evil that they have lost sight of the health-based rationale for their opposition to smoking, the upshot being that they support a policy that's apt to result in more tobacco-related disease and death, the opposite of their ostensible goal.