New York City Considers Ban On E-Cigarettes

The New York City Council is slated to vote on a bill today that would add electronic cigarettes to the city's smoking ban. If the bill passes, use of e-cigarettes would be prohibited from public and private venues such as beaches, parks, restaurants and offices.

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New York is poised to become the largest city to ban e-cigarettes in many public places. E-cigarettes are electronic devices that look like the real thing, but turn a liquid filled with nicotine and other chemicals into a vapor. As NPR's Dan Bobkoff reports, some argue the ban is getting ahead of the science.

DAN BOBKOFF, BYLINE: Makers of e-cigarettes often market them explicitly as a way to get around smoking bans and the stigma of smoking.

(SOUNDBITE OF E-CIGARETTE COMMERCIAL)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: I like to smoke but my old cigarettes kept me from smoking where I wanted to. Blu Electronics...

BOBKOFF: This ad for the Blu brand shows the smoker using his e-cigarettes around friends and even in restaurants, where smoking has been banned for years now. Now, it will be for e-cigs too. New York City Council voted today to extend its public smoking ban to e-cigarettes. That means you won't be able to use them in bars, restaurants, parks and beaches. Supporters of e-cigs say they're odorless and don't disturb nonsmokers nearby and they're free of many of the toxic ingredients in tobacco cigarettes. But that does not placate James F. Gennaro.

JAMES F. GENNARO: These are products that are not regulated at all, so we have no idea what's coming out of them.

BOBKOFF: Gennaro is the New York City councilman who wrote the e-cig bill. That's his first argument. We don't know how harmful the second-hand vapor is from e-cigs. Argument number two, seeing people smoking, or vaping, as e-cig users call it, could make smoking glamorous and accepted again.

GENNARO: And this is something that we've gone to great lengths in New York City to de-normalize.

BOBKOFF: And argument number three from Councilman Gennaro, e-cigs look like the real thing, so it's confusing, it makes it harder to enforce the existing smoking ban. But to proponents of this new kind of smoking, this law goes too far.

SPIKE BABAIAN: Been off cigarettes for five years.

BOBKOFF: Spike Babaian says vaping an e-cig is not smoking. She was on her way to the city council vote, clutching an e-cig. She runs a store that sells them. She's even the former president of the National Vapers Club. She says this ban could drive e-cig users back to the old kind, which she thinks is more dangerous.

BABAIAN: My customers will be standing outside in a smoking area, ask someone for a cigarette and go back to smoking.

BOBKOFF: But one study shows the e-cigs don't help smokers kick their nicotine habit. Stanton Glantz is a professor of medicine at the University of California San Francisco. He looked at thousands of young people using e-cigs in South Korea. Many said they used it to try to quit smoking tobacco. But it didn't work that way. They used both products.

STANTON GLANTZ: We found that kids who used e-cigarettes were a lot less likely to quit smoking than kids who didn't use e-cigarettes.

BOBKOFF: But e-cigs have not been studied as extensively as regular cigarettes. Miguel Martin, who's president of Logic Electronic Cigarettes, says this ban unfairly targets one product. He'd prefer national regulation.

MIGUEL MARTIN: Let's look at the science prior to making any of these regulatory decisions.

BOBKOFF: New York's bill will go to the desk of Mayor Michael Bloomberg. It's expected to be one of the final pieces of legislation he signs before leaving office. Dan Bobkoff, NPR News, New York.

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