It's been more than a decade since smoking was allowed in restaurants and bars here, but lately, new electronic, or e-cigarettes, have been showing up again, and now, the City Council is weighing whether to place the same restrictions on them as on traditional smokes. NY1's Erin Billups filed the following report.
Opponents of a bill that would add electronic cigarette use to the landmark Smoke-Free Air Act made a strong showing at Wednesday's Health Committee hearing.
"All of these people used to smoke, and all of these people, except maybe one, don't smoke anymore," said Spike Babaian of Vapers Club. "We can't say there are no studies, but if you count that as a survey, that's a little miniature study right there."
They call themselves Vapers and argue that a ban would hurt the progression of folks moving away from smoking to the nicotine delivery devices.
"I couldn't stop smoking. It's one of the hardest things in my life," said Talia Eisenberg, owner of the Henley Vaporium. "By picking this up, I just had no desire to smoke anymore."
City Health Commissioner Dr. Thomas Farley argued that there isn't enough evidence that e-cigarettes really help people quit.
"The e-cigarette industry, they do not make claims that they are cessation devices because they would prefer to have them be regulated as tobacco products," Farley said.
Farley said that allowing e-cigarettes to remain unregulated undermines the Smoke-Free Air Act.
"This enforceability of the Smoke-Free Air Act is really, really, important," Farley said. "If people can't distinguish, then that opens the door for people smoking conventional cigarettes again in all sorts of settings."
Advocates and opponents of the proposals both pointed to studies they say bolsters their positions, but in fact, there's been little research done on just what the effects are of inhaling nicotine vapors or breathing the vapor secondhand.
"These things are really exploding around the world. We will have more information in the future," Farley said. "I think the question for the committee today is, do you want to wait?"
"The law is unnecessary. It's hyper-regulatory," said Dr. Gilbert Ross of the American Council on Science and Health. "It really will accomplish nothing except to make more former smokers return to actual toxic cigarettes."
The e-cigarette proposal is just one of many pieces of legislation that the City Council members are looking to work through before the end of the year, meaning that they don't have much time to weigh the pros and cons.