The City Council debated Tuesday whether to snuff out the growing popularity of electronic cigarettes by banning them in bars, restaurants, and workplaces.
But e-cigarette sellers and users – who puffed on the still-legal devices throughout the City Hall hearing in a show of defiance – say they help people quit and the law is just an example of nanny state regulation gone wild.
“I smoked for nine years and I wanted a way out,” said Jenee Fowler, 28 (pictured), who switched to e-cigarettes 14 months ago. “I am not a doctor, but I know that personally my life is 1000 times better.”
E-cigarettes are projected to reach $1.7 billion in sales this year. The legislation would add them to the city’s Smoke Free Air Act, banning them everywhere regular cigarettes are banned – including restaurants, bars, offices, parks, and beaches.
Bloomberg administration officials argue the little-studied devices might be dangerous to smokers or bystanders – most of them contain nicotine.
And they say the faux cigarettes may encourage kids to start smoking by making it look cool, and make it hard to enforce the existing smoking ban because they look so much like illicit cigarettes.
“We must protect the gains we’ve worked so hard to achieve and prevent smoking rates from rising again,” said Health Commissioner Thomas Farley. “If smoking becomes socially appealing or even glamorous again you can be virtually certain that smoking rates of teenagers will rise.”
Industry reps insist there’s no comparison between their product, which emit an odorless or flavored water vapor, and smoke-spewing cigarettes.
“E-cigarettes have no combustion and therefore no ash, no tobacco smoke, and no unpleasant smell or noxious fumes for bystanders,” said Michael Shannon, vice president of blu eCigs, the largest manufacturer in the country.
Spike Babaian, co-owner of the e-cigarette shop Vape New York and a founder of the National Vapers Club, noted that many of the e-cigarette users in the audience used to be hooked on regular cigarettes.
“All these people used to smoke, and all these people don’t smoke anymore,” she said. “We don’t ban water because it looks like vodka.”
But many health advocates sided with the city, noting e-cigarettes aren’t regulated by any federal agency and it’s unknown what chemicals users are sucking in.
“E-cigarette companies are selling nicotine addiction,” said Dr. Neil Schluger of the World Lung Foundation.