New York's city council has decided that vaping around others is as unacceptable as smoking, The Wall Street Journal reports. In a 43-8 vote, the council passed a bill expanding the city's public smoking ban to e-cigarettes, meaning that they won't be allowed in public places like bars, subways, or parks. The council has been debating the measure since late November, with e-cigarette opponents saying they just wanted to close a loophole in New York's stringent anti-smoking laws. They say allowing e-cigarettes but not their traditional counterparts causes confusion, and that children aren't able to tell the difference, leading them to see smoking as socially acceptable. And this isn't the only smoking crackdown of the winter: last month, New York became the first major city to raise the smoking age from 18 to 21.
While e-cigarettes, which rely on flavored nicotine juice rather than tobacco and flame, were only introduced to the US a few years ago, sales have grown quickly, becoming a $1.7 billion market — though that's still dwarfed by the $90 billion market in cigarettes. Supporters say that they provide a safer alternative to cigarettes, and that the vapor they produce isn't comparable to secondhand smoke — making a ban unfair and potentially counterproductive. "If you make it just as inconvenient to use an electronic cigarette as a tobacco cigarette, people are just going to keep smoking their Marlboros," said NJoy e-cigarette company head Craig Weiss when the bill was introduced.
However, there's no definitive answer on precisely how safe e-cigarettes are and how they should be regulated. A 2009 FDA study tested several varieties of cartridge and found carcinogenic substances in most of them, banning them for "therapeutic" purposes like quitting smoking but leaving non-therapeutic sales open. This year, it took another look at the issue and is currently working on proposed rules to bring e-cigs under its regulatory umbrella; the EU, meanwhile, rejected a proposal to regulate them as medicines in October. In addition to any federal rules, two other major cities — Los Angeles and Chicago — are considering public bans on e-cigarettes.