Granted, I’m a pretty textbook big-government, nanny-state liberal, and vocally on-record as being in favor of most of Bloomberg’s bans (as well as a few hypothetical ones). But this news, via Gothamist, that he’s trying to sneak what would essentially be a full-scale ban on electronic cigarettes into new tobacco legislation? Not great.
And probably easy enough for people to ignore, given that electronic cigarettes are still finding their footing in the market, and it’s part of a bill (currently being considered by the City Council) that would do legitimately good things for smoking prevention, like raising the smoking age to 21 and prohibiting cigarette coupons. Still, the quiet provision that flavored e-cigarettes be sold only in elusive “tobacco bars” would be a fairly crushing blow not just to the industry, but to the scores of people using them as a relatively healthy (“relatively” is key here) way to wean themselves off of regular cigarettes.
One public health expert who spoke with the site put it more bluntly: “This is a de facto ban on electronic cigarettes. Pretty much all electronic cigarettes are flavored; they’re essentially flavored products. You’re basically telling a bunch of ex-smokers to go back to cigarettes [...] [Electronic-cigarettes] are a product that’s literally saving people’s lives, people who are literally at risk of disease and death, and giving them an alternative. What are these people gonna do?”
The mayor’s office and the health department have yet to comment on this, but the bill cites research indicating that there’s been an uptick in high schoolers who report having “tried” e-smokes in the past year, which makes sense, given the degree to which they’ve exploded onto the market. Experts dispute their popularity among teenagers, and anecdotally, it’s pretty safe to say that no one (not even—or especially not—Stephen Dorff) looks cool enough smoking these that any innocent non-smoker is going to see them and say “whoa, that’s the social crutch I’ve been looking for.” It’s not going to happen. What has happened—again, anecdotally—is a lot of smokers have used these things to cut way, way back on far more dangerous methods of taking in nicotine. It’s not ideal, of course, but it’s a start, and maybe worth putting a little research into the longer-term costs and benefits before banning them outright. Of all the important causes one could take up in the last few months as one of the most powerful political figures in the entire U.S.—like putting an end to stop and frisk or making sure your citizens are earning a living wage—this doesn’t need to be one of them.
Follow Virginia K. Smith on Twitter @vksmith.