by Jeff Stier
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.