Today the New York City Council is expected to vote on an ordinance that would ban the use of electronic cigarettes in bars, restaurants, office buildings, parks, and other public places, despite the complete absence of evidence that they pose a hazard to bystanders. Yesterday the council's Committee on Health unanimously approved the ban, apparently swayed by arguments like this:
"Manufacturers of the devices are really in the addiction business," said City Councilman James Gennaro of Queens. "This is what they're selling. They're selling addiction. They're selling in flavors like cotton candy, Cap'n Crunch, and all these flavors that appeal to kids. This is what this is about."
It's a little hard to decipher exactly what the "this" is that this is about. But I gather that Gennaro, the main sponsor of the ban, worries that electronic cigarettes will be a gateway to smoking for teenagers, even though there is no evidence that is happening. In fact, the recent increase in e-cigarette use by teenagers, which has been concentrated among smokers, has been accompanied by a continued decline in cigarette consumption.
Gennaro previously has said he worries that kids will mistake e-cigarettes for the conventional kind, conclude that smoking must be cool again, and proceed directly to a pack-a-day habit that will threaten their health and shorten their lives. There is no evidence to support that concern either, but who needs evidence when children's lives are at stake?
In seeking to protect hypothetical children from an utterly speculative hazard, Gennaro punishes actual adults who have switched from smoking to vaping, thereby dramatically reducing the health risks they face. He also discourages others from following their example by eliminating an important advantage that e-cigarettes currently enjoy. The predictable result will be more, not less, smoking-related disease and death.
Although Reuters calls the e-cigarette ban an "anti-tobacco" measure, that is an odd way to describe it, since e-cigarettes contain no tobacco and generate no combustion products. If anything, Gennaro's bill is a pro-tobacco measure that will encourage people to consume their nicotine along with myriad toxins and carcinogens rather than choosing a much cleaner method.
The general public seems to be much more sensible about such matters than the members of the New York City Council. In the latest Reason-Rupe Public Opinion Survey, 62 percent of respondents said the government should let people use e-cigarettes in public.
Update: The ban passed.