NYC Health Commissioner Says E-Cigarettes Must Be Banned Because They Look Like the Real Thing

Yesterday the New York City Council held what
The New York Times
as “one of the most scientifically vague and
emotionally charged health committee hearings in recent memory.”
The scientifically vague part was the justification offered by
supporters of a ban on the use of electronic cigarettes in “public
places” such as bars and restaurants. The main sponsor of the
proposed ban, Councilman James Gennaro, has
it is aimed at protecting children who might mistake
e-cigarettes for the real thing, conclude that smoking must be cool
again, and proceed directly to a pack-a-day habit that will
endanger their health and shorten their lives. Perhaps recognizing
that some people might deem this scenario implausible, ban backers
offered a few more arguments at yesterday’s hearing:

The health commissioner, Dr. Thomas A. Farley, said electronic
cigarettes were such a recent invention that he could not say
whether they were hazardous to the health of those smoking them or
those who might breathe in secondhand vapor. He said that they do
put out fine particles and chemicals, and “I certainly can’t
guarantee that that is safe.”

He said the problem with e-cigarettes was that they made smoking
socially acceptable, and that they were a “bridge” for people who
went back to smoking regular cigarettes.

“Does it help people quit, or does it help people not quit?” Dr.
Farley asked, rhetorically.

Then Dr. Farley indulged in a bit of theater himself, fishing
around in his shirt pocket, saying, “Just to give you an idea, I’ve
got one here somewhere,” before pulling out an electronic cigarette
that he pronounced “indistinguishable” from a real one. He and
other supporters of the ban say e-cigarettes confuse
people like bartenders and restaurant owners who have to
enforce the existing smoking ban, making that ban harder to

The rationale for the smoking ban was protection of bystanders,
and Farley concedes there is no evidence that e-cigarette
vapor—which consists
almost entirely of propylene glycol (an FDA-approved food additive)
and water, plus nicotine and flavoring agents—poses a risk to
vapers, let alone the people around them. Still, he “can’t
guarantee” it is safe, since  e-cigarettes “do put out fine
particles and chemicals.” So do cooking, perfume, and diner
flatulence. Can Farley guarantee those are safe? If not, shouldn’t
he be demanding a ban on these emissons as well? 

Farley supplements Gennaro’s concern about confused children
with sympathy for confused bartenders and restaurateurs, who might
tell a patron “you can’t smoke in here,” only to discover that he
is in fact vaping. To spare them the embarrassment of such a faux
pas, Farley proposes making it illegal to impersonate a smoker.
That is one approach. Another would be for the managers of bars and
restaurants to instruct their employees in the differences between
a burning stick of dried vegetable matter and an e-cigarette, which
contains no tobacco and produces no smoke. It is even possible that
waiters and bartenders have begun to figure this out on their own.
But if bar and restaurant owners do not want to deal with this
hassle, they can always ban vaping in their establishments, keeping
in mind that they might lose some customers to vaper-friendly

Farley’s third argument is that e-cigarettes are a “bridge” that
leads former smokers back to conventional cigarettes. As with
secondhand vapor, there is no evidence whatsoever to support this
hypothesis, and the hearing room was full of former smokers who had
the opposite experience: E-cigarettes helped them stop smoking,
thereby dramatically reducing the health risks they face. That was
what made the hearing “emotionally charged”: A bunch of
self-righteous, know-it-all politicians and bureaucrats want to
legally ostracize people who have found a much less dangerous way
to get their nicotine fix. By lumping vaping in with smoking, an
e-cigarette ban will discourage other smokers from trying a product
that could literally save their lives. All in the name of

from Hit & Run

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