He saved his worst ban for last. Former New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg's nanny-state policies have left a trail of damage. His defeated soda ban, the ban on food donations to homeless shelters and other antics have cost New Yorkers money, jobs, food choices, and even their freedom to give charity.
But a bill passed by the City Council in December, and signed by Bloomberg as one of his last official acts, could cost New Yorker's their lives. The city's wide-ranging anti-smoking law now forbids the use of relatively harmless vapor from e-cigarettes wherever cigarette smoking is banned, not only in bars and restaurants, but in parks and on beaches. For New Yorkers trying to keep their New Year's resolution to quit smoking, the ban is a bust.
In 2014, similar laws are likely be considered in cities and states around the country. The city of Santa Fe, N.M., already has a hearing on the matter scheduled for later this month.
If the government treats smoke-free e-cigarettes with the same restrictive laws as their deadly tobacco burning predecessor, fewer people will be inclined to quit smoking by switching to e-cigarettes. Not only would e-cigs lose their advantage in terms of being more convenient alternatives, the implicit (and incorrect) message would be that they are also equally dangerous, not only to the user, but to those exposed to the vapor.
Here is a product created by profit-driven private sector innovation that is doing what many hundreds of millions of dollars of government spending, costly litigation, addictive excise taxes, warning labels and punitive regulations have been unable to do: help cigarette smokers quit happily.
It is no wonder the likes of Mayor Bloomberg have smoke coming out of their ears about e-cigarettes. They understand that in order to maintain not only their huge budgets, but their basis for authority to control personal decisions and private businesses, they must demonize, delegitimize, and defeat e-cigarettes every step of the way. Treating them equal to cigarettes would be a dangerous first step.
The stated purpose of anti-smoking laws has always been first to reduce exposure to environmental cigarette smoke and second, to reduce the number of places people can smoke, with the hope that it would cause people to quit. These e-cigarettes restrictions undermine both of these goals. It won't reduce exposure to second-hand smoke, because there is no smoke. In fact, people will continue to smoke cigarettes, often bunched up on the sidewalk in front of a bar, exposing passers-by to the stinky smoke. And if the degree of enthusiasm former smokers have for e-cigarettes is any barometer, they are a much more popular way to help people quit smoking than forcing them to stand out in the cold.
Those who support the bans rely on the flimsy argument that vaping (since users inhale vapor, not smoke), "normalizes" smoking because people may think vaping is smoking. That's nonsense.
Robin Vitale of the American Heart Association, in her testimony in support of the New York City ban, said, "this mimicry of traditional cigarettes, if used indoors where smoking is banned, can easily lead to confusion and confrontation by New York business owners. The potential for this dynamic to weaken the city's decade-long ban on smoking in workplaces is quite clear and is the greatest motivating factor to support this proposal." She must have been embarrassed when a spokesman for business owners denied there have been many such complaints.
In addition, it seems that regular citizens have the common sense to realize that the blue LED light on the tip of market leader Lorillard's "blu" e-cigarette signifies that it isn't actually a cigarette. And many other popular products don't even come close to the look of cigarettes. However, many smokers prefer kicking the habit with a product that looks and feels like a cigarette.
But even those shouldn't cause much confusion, since an e-cigarette's vapor doesn't produce the smelly smoke of a cigarette. And there will be even less confusion as more people become accustomed to seeing people vape.
Spike Babian, co-owner of Vape New York, a city "vape shop," testified that "we don't ban water because it looks like vodka."
At the same hearing, New York City Health Commissioner Thomas A. Farley suggested that e-cigarettes could be a gateway to smoking. But initial studies, as well as empirical evidence, show that e-cigarettes are a major gateway away from, not toward, smoking.
As cities and states consider adding e-cigarettes bans this year, legislators should remember the law they all too often tend to ignore: the law of unintended consequences. As any vaping former smoker will tell you, a vote against e-cigarettes is a vote for smoking.
Jeff Stier is a senior fellow at the National Center for Public Policy Research, in Washington, D.C., and heads its Risk Analysis Division. Follow him on Twitter at @JeffAStier.