The State Assembly passed legislation on June 20 to eliminate the use of e-cigarettes in public places where combustible cigarettes cannot be used. The bill, which was already passed by the State Senate, is currently awaiting the approval by Gov. Andrew Cuomo. If Cuomo signs it, it will be added to the state Clean Indoor Air Act, which prohibits smoking in public venues.
“Adding e-cigarettes to our smoke-free law is an important, historic step forward to protect the lives and the health of all New Yorkers,” said Julie Hart, the government relations director for the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network.
Assemblyman Michael Montesano, a Republican from Glen Head, said that certain people do not want the state to limit the use of e-cigarettes because they use them to quit regular smoking. “That’s laudable,” he said, “but when it comes to being in a public place, or you’re in a restaurant, you can’t subject people to your habits. That’s really what this bill is all about.”
Montesano also said that the state has long considered the public when deciding matters such as this. “Any law that we pass always has an impact on someone else, and we do whatever we can to satisfy the best interests of the general public,” he said.
The use of e-cigarettes among children has become more popular in recent years. According to Carol Meschkow, of the State Department of Health, e-cigarettes are the most commonly used nicotine products for middle and high school students. “We are extremely concerned that all the work that was done to prevent smoking has been undermined by e-cigarettes,” she said. “If if’s preventable, every effort that we can take is really important.”
She added that the Clean Indoor Air Act, along with health educators and local organizations, have all contributed to changing the public’s attitude toward of smoking. And while she has seen a “promising” trend in which people are becoming more aware of the cons of e-cigarettes and other tobacco products, Meschkow is still concerned about their use among youth. “The younger the age, the stronger the addiction,” she said. “That’s what we’re really afraid of.”
Montesano said that this is where the issue lies. “It came out as a product originally to help people stop smoking,” he said. “Unfortunately, [e-cigarettes] got into the wrong hands, and it can be habit-forming for young children. It could give them an addiction, or it could be the gateway to regular cigarettes and so on.”
The Tobacco Coalition of Long Island reported that tobacco products are responsible for the preventable deaths of 25,400 people in New York each year.
“Every life that we lose to tobacco products, we have no idea what that person could have been capable of,” said Meschkow, who also works as a tobacco coalition coordinator. “Whenever a life is cut short, we all suffer.”