City May Ban E-Cigarettes from Bars, Restaurants and Parks

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A smoker with an electronic cigarette

A new bill being that will be introduced next week in the New York City Council could take some of the oxygen out of the fast-growing market for tobacco-free e-cigarettes.

The battery-operated devices produce a vapor that is not carcinogenic—but, because they often contain nicotine, can be addictive.

A first hearing for the bill will be held in the Council's Health Committee next Wednesday. The prospects for passing the bill are good since it has the support of Council Speaker Christine Quinn and Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

In a joint statement with Council Members James Gennaro and Maria del Carmen Arroyo, Quinn said that e-cigarettes, "threaten the progress we've made" and "pose a problem to business owners and threaten effective enforcement of the Smoke-Free Air Act."

Chicago is considering taking the same step.

The FDA has not issued an opinion about e-cigarettes, but is expected to soon.

"Electronic cigarettes are unregulated and the health risks to users are unknown," said Dr. Thomas Farley, city health commissioner, in a prepared statement. "They may introduce a new generation to nicotine addiction, which could lead to their smoking combustion cigarettes.

But Dr. Gilbert Ross, from the American Council on Science and Health, thinks concerns about nicotine addiction are overblown — and that e-cigarettes have powerful potential to wean smokers from tobacco.

"The known substances in e-cigarettes are unlikely to be toxic, even over the long-term," he said, "while the known substances in combustible tobacco are known to be carcinogenic."

The Health Department maintains that given the unknown and possibly harmful effects of e-cigarettes, using them to aid smoking cessation is premature.

"While more study is needed on electronic cigarettes, waiting to act is a risk we should not take," Farley said.

Farley and Ross are both scheduled to testify at next week's hearing.