Michael Bloomberg signed a bill Monday to regulate the use of electronic cigarettes — one of 22 bills he signed at City Hall that are the last he will sign as mayor of New York City, according to Evelyn Erskine, his deputy press secretary.
The legislation amends the Smoke-Free Air Act, which bans smoking in public places such as restaurants, bars, parks, beaches and places of employment. It now additionally prohibits the use of electronic cigarettes in all areas where smoking is prohibited.
E-cigarettes will still be permitted in areas where smoking is allowed, in addition to retail e-cigarette stores and vapor lounges.
E-cigarettes are “battery-operated products that turn nicotine, which is highly addictive, and/or chemicals into a vapor that is inhaled by the user,” according to Food and Drug Administration spokesperson Jennifer Haliski.
Unlike a regular cigarette, there’s no tobacco burned and when users inhale, instead of smoke, there’s a steam-like vapor.
Some e-cigarette devices claim to help people kick their smoking habit, but Bloomberg said he’s not convinced and it’s just another way to inhale nicotine.
“It works about as well as patches, which is to say it really doesn’t work,” he said.
A pro-smoking activist read a brief statement lobbying against the bill, saying smoking is within a person’s legal private life and not public health.
“You don’t own me like state property,” the lobbyist said to Bloomberg as she took out a cigarette from her pocket and lit up. The woman was escorted out of the meeting immediately afterward.
Aaron David Ross told CNN’s Poppy Harlow he smoked cigarettes for 10 years. While he’s still addicted to nicotine, he hasn’t smoked a cigarette for two and a half years. He credits kicking the bad habit to e-cigarettes.
Ross said he worries many Americans are so opposed to smoking that they’re stigmatizing something some say could save lives.
Thomas Glynn, director of Cancer Science and Trends at the American Cancer Society, said that e-cigarette users should smoke with “cautious optimism.”
“Anyone who uses an e-cigarette right now does not know what they’re inhaling,” Glynn said. “What we don’t want to do is to take something out of the hands of people which could in fact help people stop using the traditional burn cigarette, which is the enemy.”
There are no e-cigarette devices regulated by any federal body, and e-cigarettes are not an FDA-approved method to quit smoking. A 2010 court decision, which the FDA agreed to abide by, held that if e-cigarette companies stopped making therapeutic claims, their products would not be regulated by the FDA, according to Haliski.
Right now, the FDA’s Center for Tobacco Products — established in 2009 by the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act — has the authority to only regulate certain categories of “tobacco products,” which exclusively applies to cigarettes, cigarette tobacco, roll-your-own tobacco and smokeless tobacco, according to Haliski.
The FDA intends to propose a rule deeming any product that meets the definition of a “tobacco product” under the act to be subject to FDA’s regulatory authority. The FDA also intends to propose a regulation that would extend the agency’s “tobacco product” authorities to other categories of tobacco products that meet the statutory definition of “tobacco product,” Haliski told CNN.
“Further research is needed to assess the potential public health benefits and risk of electronic cigarettes and other novel tobacco products,” Haliski said.
The FDA declined to comment on the newly signed bill in New York.
Bloomberg signed another controversial bill at the final meeting of the legislative session, which requires the Department of Sanitation commissioner to determine the recyclability of expanded polystyrene foam, leading to the potential ban of the material from food services establishments, mobile food commissaries and retail stores beginning July 1, 2015.
“All of the environmental stuff, the payoff isn’t for years, but it’s what makes the city habitable and keeps us safe,” Bloomberg said.
Poppy Harlow and Laura Dolan contributed to this report