New York City's ban in public places could prompt other cities to follow suit.
NEW YORK – New York City's new ban on electronic cigarettes in public places is part of a growing national trend toward regulating the devices.
Thursday, council members in the nation's largest city voted to extend a ban on smoking traditional cigarettes in public places, restaurants, bars and in private office buildings to include e-cigarettes. New Jersey, Utah and North Dakota already ban the use of e-cigarettes where smoking is prohibited, while Los Angeles and Chicago also are considering such bans, officials said.
Supporters of the bills say e-cigarettes may cause people to start toxic addictions and may pose unknown health risks to the public. Opponents argue that they help people stop smoking and do not contain the same chemicals that make regular cigarettes dangerous.
"These are being touted as safer than cigarettes, but we don't really know that," said Councilman James Gennaro, who co-sponsored New York City's bill. "Just seeing people smoking things that look identical to cigarettes in subway cars, colleges and public libraries will tend to re-normalize the act of smoking and send the wrong message to kids."
He and others fears youngsters may take up e-cigarettes, become addicted to nicotine, and may even graduate to smoking traditional cigarettes without knowing the full health effects of their actions. Others agreed, with New York's ban passing by a 43 to 8 vote.
Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who backed the bill, is expected to sign it into law before leaving office.
More than a dozen local governments including Concord City and Petaluma in California, and Lee, Lenox, Stockbridge, North Attleborough, Somerset and South Hadley in Massachusetts also have similar laws, officials said.
Several e-cigarette manufacturers have come out against these regulations saying the items should be reserved for adults but not banned in public places.
"The states are grouping e-cigarettes with traditional cigarettes without understanding differences between the two and the positive benefits e-cigarettes can provide," said Rick Zhu, who in 2010 founded California-based Apollo Electronic Cigarettes.
He argues that e-cigarettes are less expensive, produce little smell through the vapors emitted and allow people to control their habit by letting them regulate how much nicotine they take in with the items.
Studies vary on whether e-cigarettes can be harmful, said Caroline Rickards, a physiology professor and scientist with the University of North Texas Health Science Center.
She will be starting a $30,000 collaborative study on the acute health effects of e-cigarettes next month. While the devices don't have the same chemicals as traditional cigarettes, they do contain nicotine, which can elevate a person's blood pressure and heart rate, Rickards said.
"New York is taking a conservative approach," Rickards said. "I just don't think there's been enough work done to understand what the long-term effect is if you have a lifetime of e-cigarette smoking."