Citizens Lobbying Against Smoker Harassment (CLASH), the group that successfully sued to overturn the smoking ban in New York state public parks, just filed a lawsuit to overturn New York City’s recent ban on the use of e-cigs in public places.
Rather than address the unresolved question of whether e-cigs are harmful to your health, CLASH is arguing the case on a technicality. The vaping ban was instituted under an amendment to the Smoke-Free Air Act, even though e-cigs vaporize a nicotine-laced liquid using a battery and do not produce smoke. New York’s constitution says that laws must address only one subject, and that subject must be reflected in the title.
The smoking and vaping communities are separate, but many vapers are former smokers, and legislative efforts have turned the groups into natural allies. The effort has already raised more than $11,000 out of a desired $40,000 for the lawsuit and the expected appeal.
"We’re fighting a cult, and it’s the same cult."
"We’re fighting a cult, and it’s the same cult," says Audrey Silk, founder of CLASH, which now has nearly 2,000 members between Facebook and its email list. "The same enemies that came after smoking are coming after the electronic cigarettes. It’s an ideology to them, and vaping is an extension to ‘renormalize regular cigarettes.’"
CLASH joined Russ Wishtart, a vaping advocate who hosts a podcast and a meetup for vapers in New York City, in filing the lawsuit. He noted that the vaping ban was tacked on to the smoking ban to make it easier to pass and avoid the debate over health impacts and the potential for e-cigs as smoking-cessation aids.
"They could have said, ‘Let’s make a bill called the Vape-Free Air Act,’" he says. "They chose to put it under the cover of a smoking ban that has been around for a long time because it makes it much more palatable for a legislator to vote for it."
E-cigs are spreading faster than laws can keep up. So far, Los Angeles has banned e-cigarettes in public places, following New York, and other jurisdictions are considering bans. The Food and Drug Administration still has not ruled yet on whether e-cigs will be regulated as tobacco products or anti-smoking aids, even though they’re rapidly gaining popularity and major tobacco companies have started investing in them. Sales doubled from 2012 to 2013 according to some estimates, and vaporizer shops and vaping lounges have started popping up in New York City and elsewhere.
E-cigs are spreading faster than laws can keep up
When it banned e-cigs, the New York City council noted that e-cigs are unregulated by the Food and Drug Administration, may encourage dependence on nicotine, could be a gateway drug to cigarettes for children, and increase the "social acceptability of smoking." The American Lung Association issued a warning about e-cigs, calling them a "buyer stay away, a buyer health hazard, potentially," citing the lack of health information.
The vaping ban in New York City is really a prelude to a different fight that will be argued on the merits of the devices. Vapers like Wishtart are looking forward to defending e-cigs as a benefit to society, in a way that could set precedent for the rest of the country. "There is technology today that didn’t exist 10 years ago that allows you to use nicotine in a much safer way," he says. "I see it as an evolution."