New York Lawmakers Consider Snuffing Out E-Cigarettes in Public, Private Buildings

Published June 25, 2015

State lawmakers in New York are proposing banning indoor e-cigarette use in publicly and privately owned businesses using the state’s Clean Indoor Air Act.

Dr. Michael Siegel, a professor at the Boston University School of Public Health, says lawmakers’ tough stance on e-cigarettes is full of hot air.

“As of now, there is no solid scientific evidence to document that vaping poses any substantial public health risk for bystanders,” Siegel said. “In fact, there has not yet even been a study documenting significant levels of toxic chemicals in actual environments where vaping is taking place, not in an experimental chamber.

“While there have been some chemicals detected in e-cigarette aerosol, the levels of these chemicals are quite low, and it is not clear that they pose any acute hazard. Nor is it clear that they pose a long-term hazard,” Siegal said.

Tobacco Harm-Reduction Benefits

Siegel says banning e-cigarettes to prevent indoor pollution is a premature overreaction.

“My general feeling is that the government should not step in to ban a behavior unless there is documented evidence of a significant public health hazard,” Siegal said.

Siegel says the use of e-cigarettes as harm-reduction tools for smokers should be encouraged.

“It is absolutely a good thing that electronic cigarettes provide a valid alternative for so many smokers who are unable to quit using traditional strategies, such as nicotine replacement therapy or smoking cessation drugs,” Siegel said.

There is strong evidence that the use of e-cigarettes has been associated with a reduction in cigarette consumption,” Siegal said. “Clinical trials suggest that smoking cessation rates with e-cigarettes are at least as high as they are with the nicotine patch. So, e-cigarettes must be viewed as a bona fide smoking cessation strategy.”

Confusion About Pollutants

Bridgewater State University professor Aeon Skoble says lawmakers may be confused about the nature of e-cigarettes.

“As recent studies have shown, there’s no evidence that vaping produces secondhand pollutants along with the water vapor, so it’s very much like banning indoor smoking out of concerns for secondhand smoke,” Skoble said. “Maybe vaping conjures associations with smoking that some elites find aesthetically unappealing, so they’re looking to ban this also under the preexisting umbrella of smoking bans, but that’s clearly an overreach not supported by any science.”

Violations of Property Rights

Instead of one-size-fits-all government bans and regulations, restaurateurs should be allowed to meet the demands of their clientele, Skoble says.

“The very concept of a property right is violated by laws restricting the owner’s use,” Skoble said. “Also, even leaving aside the philosophical issue, property owners should be in charge of setting the use rules for their own property, for local-knowledge reasons.

“Not every establishment has the same atmosphere, appeal, or customer base, so one-size-fits-all mandates from on high are sure to be missing something,” Skoble said. “A particular restaurant owner will know best whether his or her clientele wants smoking banned or permitted or would be happy with segregated seating areas.”

Owners of private businesses should be empowered to react to their customers’ wishes, says Skoble.

“Let owners decide what’s best based on what their customers are telling them,” Skoble said.

Andrea Dillion ([email protected]) writes from Holly Springs, North Carolina.