The City Council this week voted 46-1 to ban many flavorings in a variety of tobacco products, and Mayor Bloomberg is likely to sign it into law. Speaker Christine Quinn justified it as an effort to protect children -- but the main effect will be to make it harder for adult smokers to quit.
The ban also covers many flavors of snus -- a smokeless, and thus far less harmful, tobacco.
Snus is a pouch of tobacco that goes between cheek and gum, delivering the nicotine that smokers crave without the harmful chemicals that come from burning and inhaling tobacco. The risk of oral cancer from smokeless tobacco is low -- far lower than the oral cancer risk from smoking cigarettes.
And switching from cigarettes to snus eliminates the risk of heart disease, lung cancer and the other systemic diseases related to smoking -- not to mention secondhand smoke.
Still, Council Health Committee Chairman Joel Rivera lauded the bill: "This legislation is a major step forward in protecting kids and deterring them from starting a lethal habit."
But sales of all tobacco products to minors are already illegal. The city should enforce the law on the books rather than stymie adults' switch to a less harmful product.
Ironically, the city ban exempts flavored hookah tobacco and menthol -- both of which are popular among younger tobacco users and which, unlike the banned flavored snus, have no redeeming public-health value. They certainly don't help people quit cigarettes.
New York City is not alone in banning the wrong products. Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal recently called for a ban on e-cigarettes.
E-cigarettes are devices that supply users with vaporized nicotine and look like cigarettes. They contain no tobacco and are noncombustible, eliminating almost all smoking risks. They could be a lifesaver; the only reason to crack down is the ideology of the public-health movement, which has decided that anything that has tobacco in it, or even looks like a cigarette, must be illegal, even for sale to adult smokers trying to stop smoking.
The pollyannas behind this approach believe that no level of risk is acceptable. Elizabeth Kilgore, acting assistant commissioner of tobacco control at the NYC Department of Health, says smokers who have tried to quit but failed should just keep on trying again and again rather than try snus or e-cigarettes.
It is a quit-or-die dogma that evades logic.
The federal government is getting into the act as well. The Food and Drug Administration, now tasked with regulating tobacco, in July warned about tiny levels of carcinogens in e-cigarettes, telling smokers to stay away -- in effect telling them to stick with deadly cigarettes.
These government actions will do nothing to protect kids. The only effect is to promote the most dangerous form of tobacco use, smoking cigarettes.
If the advocates get their way, the only thing addicted smokers will be able to buy are mostly ineffective nicotine gums and patches -- and, of course, cigarettes.