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NY Senate Debating Public Ban On E-Cigarettes

Kyle Stamm smokes an electronic cigarette at Henley Vaporium in New York City. (credit: Getty Images)

Kyle Stamm smokes an electronic cigarette at Henley Vaporium in New York City. (credit: Getty Images)

CBS New York (con't)

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ALBANY, N.Y. (CBSNewYork/AP) — State lawmakers are considering whether to include electronic cigarettes in New York’s indoor public smoking ban.

The Senate Health Committee panel heard testimony Monday from health experts who said that the nicotine liquid and the vapor e-cigarettes produce could be hazardous to both consumers and the public.

The state’s Clean Indoor Air Act prohibits smoking traditional cigarettes in nearly all workplaces in the state. Proponents of the ban hope that e-cigarettes will also be included, as they are in New York City as of late last month.

Research hasn’t yet produced a definitive answer on whether secondhand vapor is a threat to the public, but health experts believe that e-cigarette companies are marketing to teenagers and young adults with flavors such as cherry, chocolate and gummy bear.

“Federal law recognizes that the purpose of these flavorings is to addict children to nicotine and create a new generation of tobacco users,” said Dr. Harlan Juster, director of the Health Department’s Bureau of Tobacco Control.

Sen. Brad Hoylman, a Manhattan Democrat, said he has seen e-cigarettes with the image of Hello Kitty, a cartoon cat.

According to the state Health Department, only 12 percent of high school-age kids reported having smoked a cigarette within 30 days in a 2012 survey, down from 27 percent in 2000.

The agency said 88 percent of adult smokers began before the age of 18.

E-cigarettes are marketed as safer than regular cigarettes and a transitional measure to bypass quitting cold turkey, but still contain nicotine, the addictive ingredient in traditional cigarettes.

Medical and public health professionals have seen no evidence that e-cigarettes help smokers quit, according to Lawrence Eisenstein, president of the state Association of County Health Officials.

Lawmakers also heard from opponents who said the ban would infringe on the rights of business owners.

“The Association sees this as another attempt by government to dictate how New Yorkers run their business,” said Scott Wexler, executive director of the Empire State Restaurant and Tavern Association.

Opponents suggest waiting for the Food and Drug administration’s review of e-cigarettes before any legislation banning indoor smoking of e-cigarettes is enacted.

The e-cigarette ban took effect in New York City on April 29. Glen Cove, Long Island, is also considering a ban.

Dr. Thomas Farley, the New York City health commissioner under former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, said allowing electronic cigarettes in bars and restaurants undermines existing bans on tobacco-based products.

“Imagine for a moment you’re at a bar and there are 20 people who are puffing on something that looks like a cigarette and then somebody smells something that smells like tobacco smoke,” Farley says. “How’s the bartender going to know who to tap on the shoulder and say, ‘Put that out’?”

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