Vaping Gives Politicians the Vapors

New York extends its smoking ban to e-cigarettes because they look too much like the real thing.


A few weeks ago, as the New York City Council's health committee considered a ban on using electronic cigarettes in public, several fans of the battery-powered devices sat in the audience, demonstrating their operation. "I'm watching puffs of vapor go up in this room," said Councilman Peter Vallone. "It is confusing."

Last week Vallone and 42 of his colleagues demonstrated their confusion by voting to treat vaping like smoking, meaning e-cigarettes will be banned from bars, restaurants, and other indoor spaces open to the public, along with outdoor locations such as parks and beaches. Although that arbitrary edict may relieve the discomfort of politicians bewildered by a new technology, it probably will mean more smoking-related disease and death, the opposite of their avowed goal.

The New York Times called the meeting during which Vallone expressed his dismay at metal tubes that resemble cigarettes "one of the most scientifically vague and emotionally charged health committee hearings in recent memory." New York City Health Commissioner Thomas Farley supplied the scientific vagueness, admitting there is no evidence that e-cigarettes pose a threat to vapers themselves, let alone bystanders. Still, he said, "I certainly can't guarantee that that is safe."

But the real problem with e-cigarettes, according to Farley and other supporters of the ban, is that they look too much like the real thing. "E-cigarettes threaten, in my opinion, to undermine enforcement of the Smoke-Free Air Act," City Council Speaker Christine Quinn said last week. "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."

You might think that people of ordinary intelligence would pretty quickly learn to distinguish a burning stick of dried vegetable matter from an e-cigarette, which contains no tobacco and produces no smoke. And once they learned the difference, they could explain it to the New York City Council. "These are being touted as safer than cigarettes," says Councilman James Gennaro, "but we don't really know that."

Yes, we do. While some questions remain about the long-term effects of inhaling propylene glycol, the government-approved food ingredient that carries nicotine to vapers' lungs, there is no doubt that the hazards of consuming the drug this way pale beside the hazards of consuming it along with the myriad toxins and carcinogens created by tobacco combustion. People who tell you otherwise are blowing smoke—or possibly e-cigarette vapor, since they can't seem to tell the difference.

Smokers can, and those who have switched to e-cigarettes, thereby dramatically reducing the health risks they face, resent being pushed out into the cold again by power-mad politicians wielding frivolous rationales. Gennaro, who co-sponsored the vaping ban, worries that "just seeing people smoking things that look identical to cigarettes in subway cars, colleges and public libraries will tend to re-normalize the act of smoking and send the wrong message to kids."

That scenario seems unlikely, since the main selling point of e-cigarettes is that they eliminate the smelly smoke and dangerous combustion products generated by the regular kind. Nor is there any evidence that vaping is a gateway to smoking: The recent increase in e-cigarette use by teenagers occurred almost entirely among smokers, and it was accompanied by a continued decline in smoking.

Although the literally superficial arguments offered in support of New York's vaping ban are not very persuasive, they reflect the real motivation of people who object to e-cigarettes. They are appalled by this product because it reminds them of tobacco cigarettes, triggering all the emotions of disgust, contempt, and self-righteousness they associate with smoking.

Yet this very same resemblance makes e-cigarettes a promising harm-reduction tool, one that mimics smoking while delivering nicotine in a much cleaner form. Anyone who is truly concerned about the health consequences of smoking should welcome this innovation instead of following New York's example by making it less appealing through gratuitous restrictions that discourage smokers from quitting.

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  1. I, for one, welcome NY’s descent into a nanny-state hellhole.

      1. -1 eventual nanny-state America

        1. -1 messing up the best opening thread we could hope for

    1. my best friend’s half-sister got paid $13253 a week ago. she is making money on the computer and moved in a $315200 house. All she did was get blessed and apply the information explained on this web page


  2. Dude knows what day of the week it is.


  3. “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.”

    How dare you make us bully you!

  4. Although that arbitrary edict may relieve the discomfort of politicians bewildered by a new technology, says Senior Editor Jacob Sullum, it probably will mean more smoking-related disease and death, the opposite of their avowed goal.

    That’s because the actual goal of a politician is almost never what they avow.

  5. It’s worth keeping in mind that a lot of the pushback against e-cigarettes is being funded by the pharmaceutical industry, using the professional Puritans of the anti-smoking lobby, with whom they have a long and fruitful relationship, as useful idiots.

    It’s also worth noting that the same groups who were trotting out the “will NOBODY think of the CHILDREN!!!” argument and claiming that e-cigarettes are being marketed to children/will lead to increased rates of smoking in teenagers (contrary to all the published evidence) have repeatedly and actively…campaigned against the introduction of state and local laws that would restrict sales of nicotine liquid to minors – bills that have been widely supported by e-cigarette trade associations.

    It would be terribly cynical of me to suggest that the likes of Pfizer and GlaxoSmithKline are more interested in protecting their share of the 4 billion dollar a year plus quit-smoking business than they are in the protection of public health, so I won’t.

    1. You just spelled out the Bootlegger and Baptist effect.

    2. I don’t think the anti-smoking activists are unknowing dupes of the pharmaceutical industry (at least for the most part), a lot of anti-smoking groups and anti-smoking research is directly funded by pharmaceutical companies.

      Also, the anti-smoking movement over time developed an explicitly puritan stance on tobacco. It first started developing in the 1960s and by the 1980s it was the dominate view in tobacco control. And as time goes on they are getting more and more extreme. I have heard that a few anti-smoking groups who supply speakers for public schools no longer hire ex-smokers because it “spends the wrong message”. Their official stance is that once an addict; always an addict. That if you are a smoker your life will be ruined and there is no escape from your choices. So seeing a happy and healthy ex-smoker conflicts with their message.

    3. concern troll cassie, try fucking off girlfriend, i suggest you stick your head up your ass, i’ll take care of my own health.

  6. It suffices that their edict is a premeditiated affont to liberty, property and the life of the mind

  7. I think someone could make some money by coming up with vaping devices that do not look anything like cigarettes. I though the idea of having a large 7-11 style cup and the straw being the e-Cigarette would be very interesting. To everyone else it looks like you’re taking a sip of sofa, but in fact you’re smoking.

    1. “I think someone could make some money by coming up with vaping devices that do not look anything like cigarettes.”

      They have been making “mods” for years. Mostly they look like wooden boxes, flashlights or dildos. Love the large soda drink cup idea, though…. especially for the elitists in NY.

    2. But that would make vaping a gateway drug to large sodas, normalizing the 44oz beverage and escalating the epidemic of obesity.

    3. you are sadly brain dead, fuck nuts, let’s dance around the fact that some folks like their nicotine.

      So if the (criminals that you decide are criminals because they do nicotine) hide behind your fucking stupid post.

      You are a fucking concern TROLL, given your worries about sodas you are the worst type of concern fucking troll.

      I don’t do sodas, have had maybe 5 in the last 5 years, not my thing. If I happened to enjoy sodas it’s none of your business, motherfucker, hey jack banning if you missed my gist fuck the fuck off, try fucking with my life bro, it won’t end well if you try that with me.

      1. Cold Turkey?

  8. There are plenty of thngs in common use that resemble somethng that is frowned upon or outright illegal.

    Many of them are in use in the government of NYC right now. I wonder if you could file a criminal comlaint for people possessing facsimile weapons (such as the arrows or swords found on certain government seals)?

  9. Their arguments in favor of this ban set up an interesting legal possibility. By arguing that e-cigarettes must be banned because they resemble smoking real cigarettes and therefore encourage smoking by making it seem “OK” to smoke they are saying that their ban is a ban on an expression of an idea, not a ban on a dangerous behavior.

    That’s pretty interesting. A challenge to a regulation on free speech grounds – and on the grounds that the government intends to suppress speech that no one intends to make. Nobody intends to make a statement that smoking is acceptable by using an e-cigarette. They don’t intend to express any idea at all – they are just living their lives. And the state is saying that simply living your life as you see fit is an expression of an idea that must be suppressed. Interesting.

  10. Damn, politicians are terrified of everything. These are like the bubble children who weren’t allowed to go outside because they’re parents didn’t want them to get “hurt”.

  11. I agree with,
    Jacob Sullum
    | December 25, 2013,
    article plus one notable addition;
    Big Pharma and Big Tobacco
    have a vested interest
    in quashing competition.
    One in the form of
    transdermal nicotine patches
    worth Millions and two
    cigarettes obviously.
    Until Big Tobacco re-tools
    to manufacture or own/import
    from China, England, India
    the components or finished e-Cig products
    they will continue to support
    with big campaign donations
    the Ban of e-Cig’s.

    Although there has been
    many peer reviewed studies on e-Cig’s
    until Big Pharma, Big Tobacco,
    City, County, State
    and Federal Government
    PROFITS by the sale
    of e-Cig’s, ignorant
    and stupid politicians using
    and basing their arguments
    with pseudo-science or no-science
    and worse campaign funds
    dripping from their pockets
    e-Cig’s along with other products
    are at the whim of
    TaxPayer funded CLERKS
    that represent special interests
    and not the public at large.
    Carl Mathiesen, 12/26/2013

    1. Maybe for the general public but not for people with curiosity. Look around on YouTube and you will find how to build an ecig in a few hours from things purchased at your local WalMart and Home Depot.

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