There is no reason to question why soon-to-be-former Mayor Michael Bloomberg has once again sic’d his attack dog of a Health Commissioner, Tom Farley, on another innocent victim: electronic cigarettes (e-cigs). As Edmund Hilary said, “Because it’s there” is enough of a reason, and because Bloomberg has decided the devices might possibly pollute — not the air, certainly (more about that later), but his “legacy.”
As we all know, The Mayor is responsible for all the good things that have occurred in our City over the past dozen years, including the truly marvelous (decline in smoking rates) and the borderline (the Disney-fication of Times Square). But let’s not forget all those other health miracles he tried to foist on our unsuspecting populace: the “large-sized” soda ban, the soda tax, and now this inane effort to render e-cigs obsolete before their time.
A few months ago, a rumor spread that the Mayor’s new tobacco-control program was going to illegalize e-cigs, or ban them all aside from those that contained no nicotine. Note that since supplying the addictive drug nicotine is the main point of helping addicted smokers to kick cigarettes by using e-cigs (“vaping”), allowing impotent e-cigs on the market while banning the effective ones seemed perverse to many. Thankfully, that proposal died before birth.
Or did it? A few weeks ago, a new tobacco program was sent down from on high, raising the age limit for purchasing tobacco products to a new U.S. record, twenty-one — including e-cigs of course, but otherwise avoiding them entirely. That is, until the day before Thanksgiving, when suddenly a new City Council measure was slated for discussion only a few days hence, on Dec. 4th: the plan was to ban e-cigs everywhere real ones were excluded, invoking the “Smoke-free Air Act” (another feather in the Bloombergian chapeau). A spirited hearing before the Health Committee ensued (at which I testified).
Although it seemed quite clear that vapor is not smoke, Health Commissar Farley continued to insist that he and his troopers would have trouble distinguishing vapers from smokers, so out in the cold they should all go. He also asserted that to protect innocent bystanders from toxic “second-hand vapor,” e-cigs vapors must be confined to the outdoors: “We just don’t know what’s in it,” he said. To which I responded, “Yes, we do.” At least two well-done scientific publications have evaluated the contents of e-cig vapor and have found nothing to be concerned about: not for bystanders, and highly likely not for vapers themselves.
Yet, the measure refuses to die. It will come up for a City Council vote on this Wednesday the 18th at high noon, having been rushed through the normal deliberative process, which as anyone who has worked with the NYC bureaucracy knows, usually takes about ten times the length this measure has experienced. If it passes, however, Bloomberg-Farley will not be able to look back upon this as another health benefit for our city’s smokers. Rather, they will be held to account when many ex-smokers relapse to the real thing by being forced back into proximity to the toxic, deadly cigarettes they thought they had finally escaped from.
Listen up, e-cig haters: vapor is not smoke, and the “Smoke-free Air Act” should not apply to them. This irresponsible “leadership” is fading away, but will it disappear in time to save e-cigarettes? Let’s hope so.
Gilbert Ross, M.D. is the Medical and Executive Director of the American Council on Science and Health.