By equating vaping with tobacco smoke, city legislators are sending the wrong message and hurting many of those who want to quit smoking
The mayor of New York City, Bill de Blasio, signed a series of bills aimed at reducing the overall number of smokers in the city by 160,000 by 2020. As the leading cause of preventable death in New York, around 12,000 lives per year, tobacco use is still one of the major concerns of public health officials in the city. Although the smoking rates in NYC have dropped nearly 10% over the last 13 years, to almost historic lows, there are still more than 900,000 smokers throughout the city.
The seven bills are mostly aimed at cigarette companies and the countless tobacco shops around NYC, but they have vaping in the crosshairs as well. The most headline worthy of these changes is a mandated minimum price of $13 per pack of cigarettes. Unfortunately this bill also extends a 10% tax on E-cigarettes, grouped together with the other smoke based nicotine sources like cigars and shisha. These alternate ways of smoking are understood to be essentially as dangerous as traditional cigarettes. Also quite noteworthy about the entire package deal by legislators is that it was presented to the council on the 8th of August and passed the very next day. While it didn’t have any trouble getting the votes it needed in the council, this almost immediate turnaround gave no time for any criticisms or suggestions from experts. The shady nature in which the bills were passed is questionable, but what’s worse is that by grouping E-cigarettes with everything else they reinforce a mindset that’s prevented millions from trying a device that could help them finally quit for good.
With a product as new as E-cigarettes it’s understandable when lawmakers and health organizations are reluctant to back, so called, harmless alternatives. But after over a decade of research, a consensus is forming that E-cigarettes do in fact dramatically improve the chances of quitting smoking. Most recently a study released as a joint effort by Columbia and Rutgers Universities concluded that “The prevalence of being quit was significantly higher among daily e-cigarette users compared to those who had never used E-cigarettes [52.2% vs. 28.2%].” Also supporting its utility as a smoking cessation tool, a widely agreed on fact about e-cigarettes is that vapor is much less harmful than cigarette smoke as far as we can tell.
Two main components of the package effect E-cigarettes. The first would expand the existing ban on smoking in common areas of residential buildings with ten or more units to include vaping. Second and more importantly, one of the seven bills requires that vape shops acquire a license similar to cigarette stores. Notwithstanding the fact that this expanded license only applies to vaping and not tobacco based stores, the bill caps the number of licenses allowed per district to half of what is currently operating in NYC. Considering everything science has to say about vaping being an extremely successful smoking cessation tool, how does halving the number of licensed vape shops in the city actually help anyone quit smoking? Only with the generally misinformed public perception of vaping does any of this make sense. Action on Smoking and Health’s (ASH) numbers indicate that only around 13% of people surveyed thought that vaping was a lot safer than cigarettes. Compare this with the over 25% of people who believed vaping is just as dangerous if not more dangerous than smoking and you can see why public perception is not analogous with scientific fact.
What We Can Do
New York City is one of the largest and most diverse cities on the planet. This makes it a good barometer for the success of many social health policies. This ought to highlight why it’s so critical to consult science and not public perception when drafting legislation. Clearly the mayor and city council missed that message as they were far more concerned with perception. But at the end of the day this is the biggest problem facing vaping, the misunderstood facts about how much safer than cigarettes they are. So ultimately opening up the discussion with people you know personally who might be looking to quit is the best place we can start.
What do you think about NYC’s new smoking bills? Do you think they will help or hurt their own cause? Should smoking and vaping be held to the same standards? Let us know what you think in the comments.