Critics of the new ban on public vaping in New York are warning that the policy could actually cause more smoking and spur greater tobacco deaths.
Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed legislation into law Monday curtailing where vapers can use their products in the name of improving overall public health in the city. Charles Hughes, a policy analyst at the Manhattan Institute, argues the ban could have the opposite effect because it restricts use of the products to areas where smoking is allowed. Smokers may be less likely to ever attempt quitting with a vape if the products are relegated to the status of combustible cigarettes, Hughes argues in an editorial in Economics 21.
Hughes warns that “failing to recognize the differences between conventional cigarettes and e-cigarettes could slow the rate at which people shift away from conventional cigarettes.” He points to a study released Oct. 2 by the Lombardi Comprehensive Cancer Center at Georgetown University Medical Center, which shows that, even in a worst case scenario, if vaping were to largely replace smoking, roughly 1.6 million smokers would avoid premature death and collectively add 20.8 million extra years to their lives.
“While e-cigarettes are not without some degree of risk and uncertainty, many studies have found that they pose substantially less risk than conventional cigarettes, and may even speed the shift away from more dangerous cigarette smoking,” Hughes wrote Friday in Economic 21. “Replacing a significant amount of cigarette use with vaping could deliver immense health benefits in the coming years, but bans such as the one in New York State could make those benefits much harder to realize.”
The bill in New York, which passed in the legislature in June, bans the use of e-cigarettes in a number of public settings, including restaurants, bars and workplaces. The legislation amends New York’s Indoor Clean Air Act to include e-cigarettes. Under the new rules, e-cigarettes are viewed no differently than any other tobacco product, despite research showing that the devices eliminate up to 95 percent of the risks associated with smoking.
Public health experts focused on harm reduction point out, like Hughes, policies that restrict vaping and conflate the health risks with those from combustible tobacco actually undermine public health and make it harder for smokers to quit. In the best case scenario from the Georgetown University study, if vaping were to largely replace smoking, roughly 6.6. million smokers would avoid premature death and collectively add 86.7 million extra years to their lives.
Americans are increasingly turning to electronic cigarettes as a way to quit smoking, according to federal data showing that former smokers made up 34 percent of all vapers in 2016.
A paper released Sept. 28 by the free-market think tank R Street Institute reveals that the overall vaping population in the U.S. declined for the second straight year in 2016, while the share of the population that are former smokers increased, rising from 2.49 million to 2.62 million Americans in 2016.
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