New York City was the first major city to ban vaping, the use of e-cigarettes, wherever cigarette smoking is banned. Cities around the country have followed suit.
As a result, smokers who are trying to quit are forced to take their e-cigarettes outside together with the smokers. Now the council may go further and ban the sale of flavored e-cigarettes.
Councilman Costa Constantinides' bill, introduced this month, would be a blow to smokers who want a less harmful alternative that actually tastes good.
Flavors are critically important because they make e-cigarettes attractive to smokers who are trying to quit. Smokers who've switched from smoking to vaping regularly report that they enjoy the various flavors of e-cigarettes, often more than the flavor of burning tobacco.
In fact, in a survey published last November in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, participants reported that e-cig flavors, including fruit flavors, were "very important" to them in their effort to quit or reduce smoking.
No, the ban wouldn't immediately send folks back to smoking. They'd just buy their e-cigs online and outside of the city. So the initial impact would be to hurt legitimate businesses that are trying to offer their customers an appealing and less harmful alternative to cigarettes.
The real harm of the bill comes later, when other legislatures follow our example. I've testified against bans on public vaping at City Council meetings around the country.
Almost every time, the supporters cite the impressive fact that New York City passed a similar law. In fact, it's probably their best argument. The same would happen if Constantinides' poorly considered bill becomes law.
As is often the case, those calling for a ban to restrict the choices of adults tell us that their goal is to protect children.
"These flavors are direct marketing to children," Constantinides said when introducing the bill. "They appeal to children, and we're taking them out of that market."
That's absurd. Legislatures around the country, including the City Council, have already banned the sales of all e-cigs to minors. The Food and Drug Administration's proposed rule does the same.
The council and the Health Department should get back to basics and make sure stores don't sell e-cigarettes, flavored or not, to kids.
Perhaps while they are at it, they might be able to stop the greater threat, sales of actual cigarettes to kids. It's all too common here, for all the Health Department's aggression in other areas.
Flavor-ban proponents also argue that until all the science is in, it's better to be safe than sorry. But that "precautionary principle" approach doesn't apply so simply here.
The World Health Organization, the FDA and scientists at leading anti-smoking groups such as the Legacy Foundation have all recognized that while e-cigarettes have risks, they also have potential to help people reduce their harm dramatically by switching from smoking.
Specifically, the Legacy Foundation's David Abrams lauds e-cigarettes as a "disruptive technology," telling the Washingtonian, "I think we're missing the biggest public-health opportunity in a century if we get [the regulations] wrong."
He adds, "We've got to thread this needle just right. We've got to both protect kids and non-users and use it as a way to make obsolete the much more lethal cigarette."
The FDA has proposed rules to govern e-cigarettes, but hasn't opted to ban flavors. Instead, the agency is looking into not only the science of e-cigs, but how products such as flavored cigarettes are being used.
It won't have to look far: Vapers report that the appeal of flavors have made the much more lethal cigarette obsolete, at least to them.
Councilman Constantinides' proposed ban would not only "thread this needle" the wrong way, it would stick smokers not in the finger, but in the lungs, by suggesting flavored cigarettes present a risk in the same category as smoking.
Jeff Stier is a senior fellow at the National Center for Public Policy Research.