Within the past six weeks, documents outlining New York City’s secret war against electronic tobacco were leaked to the public. The contents of the documents are hardly surprising given New York’s recent assault on items sold in convenience stores, fast-food restaurants and supermarkets.
The documents were leaked by the Consumer Advocates for Smoke-free Alternatives Association (CASAA), an advocacy group aimed at raising awareness and protecting rights to access to reduced harm alternatives. What’s more, while tobacco and menthol flavored e-cigarettes would still be available in retail stores, all other flavored e-cigarettes could only be sold in age-restricted “tobacco bars.” Unfortunately, NYC prohibits the operation of “tobacco bars” unless they were already in operation prior to Dec. 31, 2001.
In May, an official from the NYC Department of Health and Mental Hygiene stood before the Council Health Committee and stated that it was not their intention to regulate e-cigarettes or ban the sale of flavored e-cigarettes. Greg Conley, legislative director for Consumer Advocates for Smoke-free Alternatives Association (CASAA), told me that approximately 20 e-cigarette users spoke before the Health Committee and it was strongly implied by the Council members that ordinances would be amended to protect consumer access to low-risk alternative tobacco products.
“For three months, there was silence from the Mayor’s office, Department of Health, and the City Council on the e-cigarette issue,” Conley said. “Now, with local media attention focused on the mayoral race and other issues, a new draft of the ordinances has been leaked. The new drafts completely ignore the written and verbal comments made by e-cigarette users. Worse, the new drafts absurdly claim that e-cigarette marketing is designed to deter smokers from quitting, despite the fact that clinical trial and survey data show that e-cigarettes help smokers quit.”
Conley indicated that the Bloomberg administration is banking on the City Council to “rubber stamp” his new ordinances “which would constitute a backdoor, unannounced ban on the sale of flavored e-cigarettes and e-cigarette liquid in New York City. Banning flavored e-cigarettes will do absolutely nothing to protect public health. Indeed, considering the clear evidence that e-cigarettes are helping smokers quit or greatly reduce their cigarette consumption, restricting availability could lead less smokers to quit.”
Like Conley, convenience store industry veteran and tobacco consultant Lou Maiellano told me that New York City is simply failing to do its homework. “In light of recent research and its findings on electronic cigarettes, this proposal is simply absurd,” he said.
If New York is Gotham, retail stores must be its kryptonite because the city is earning a well-deserved reputation for systematically eradicating (or at least trying to) the sale of products it doesn’t like without a single regard to personal rights. It has destroyed tobacco profitability with exorbitant taxes, it has stuck its nose in the kitchens of restaurants and delis to monitor ingredients, such as sodium, and it continues to push for maximum cup sizes on dispensed beverages. It simply boggles the mind how one city can wield such a mighty sword when it comes to the eating habits of its residents. It’s not just disturbing, it’s downright outrageous. No one will ever be able to convince me that a grown person should be denied a Super Big Gulp simply because of some bureaucratic whim.
I understand a lot of things. I understand why sides are divided on difficult societal issues like legalizing marijuana, gun control, abortion, etc. Those are extraordinary subjects open for debate and interpretation. The right to puff on an electronic cigarette or sip on a Slurpee must not be mentioned in the same breath with these other serious issues. If Mayor Bloomberg has his way, it will be.