Why is Bloomberg keeping New Yorkers smoking?

August 13, 2013

New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s aggressive nanny-state policies — such as his crusades against trans fats and large-size sodas — have been annoying and, at times, unconstitutional. While some of his critics have suggested sinister motives, the most charitable assessment has always been that Bloomberg is well-intentioned; it’s just that his policy solutions are misguided.

Now, news leaked last week that Bloomberg is getting ready to push for a series of ordinances intended to drive electronic cigarettes off the market in Gotham. In doing so, Bloomberg is making it evident that he really does just want to boss people around — even if it’s not for their well-being.

For decades lawmakers and bureaucrats have tried to mitigate smoking and the harm it causes through punitive taxation and heavy regulation. However, the technological breakthrough behind electronic cigarettes could be a disruptive technology — letting the free market provide a solution to a problem that social engineers have not been able to address through stiff government regulations. It’s one reason why businessmen like Sean Parker, an early investor in Facebook and founder of Napster, have become big boosters of electronic cigarettes.

Studies have shown that electronic cigarettes stand to improve health and prevent disease. By choosing to “vape” e-cigs instead of smoking cigarettes, consumers get their nicotine fix without the combustion and smoke — responsible for much of the negative health effects of tobacco cigarettes. For smokers already addicted to nicotine, e-cigs provide an alternative delivery mechanism that does not come with the proven harm that results from smoking.

The new ordinances to be proposed by the Bloomberg administration, which were reported last week and are expected to be taken up by the City Council later this month, would define and regulate electronic cigarettes as a tobacco product — though it has no tobacco. It would also raise the legal age to purchase e-cigs from 18 to 21, and ban the promotion, display and marketing of e-cigs.

One unintended consequence could be to keep New Yorkers smoking tobacco cigarettes, a product that the Centers for Disease Control estimates kills more than 400,000 Americans per year. According to Dr. Michael Siegel, professor of Community Health Sciences at the Boston University School of Public Health, Bloomberg’s e-cig proposals “would be a public health disaster.”

At this point, e-cigs, more accurately referred to as an electronic nicotine delivery system (ENDS), have now helped many end their dependence on cigarettes. Even tobacco industry executives acknowledge that consumers switching to e-cigs drove total industry sales down by approximately 600 million cigarettes in the first quarter of this year alone.

“Consumption of e-cigs may overtake traditional cigarettes in the next decade,” Wells Fargo analyst Bonnie Herzog told Time magazine in January. “And they’ll only evolve and improve as time goes forward — at far less risk. The technology portion of it is sort of like Apple. This is just Version 1.” Some medical experts are saying it represents a breakthrough for public health.

Bloomberg is arguing that e-cigs perpetuate nicotine addiction. His targeting of e-cigs, however, won’t stop people from consuming nicotine. The greatest value of e-cigs is that they allow people to get their nicotine fix without the well-documented harm that comes from smoking tobacco.

Critics of e-cigs point to a Food and Drug Administration warning issued in 2009, which noted that some samples contained ingredients found in anti-freeze. However, a study released this month by Drexel University concluded that the chemicals in e-cigs are not harmful to users or those in their proximity. 

John Britton from the Royal College of Physicians says e-cigs are far safer than tobacco cigarettes. He compared the two on a danger scale during a BBC radio program, ranking tobacco cigarettes as 100 and e-cigarettes as “under 5.”

“If all U.K. smokers switched to e-cigarettes,” Britton said, “five million lives would be saved just in those who are alive today.” The Economist was correct when it noted in June that the “right approach is not to denormalise smoking, but to normalise e-smoking.”

Bloomberg isn’t the only elected official targeting e-cigs. Earlier this year Republican lawmakers in the South Carolina legislature introduced a bill to impose an excise tax on e-cigs. That bill was ultimately defeated.

But it previewed the debate likely to take place in state capitals around the country in coming years, as revenue-hungry politicians attempt to squeeze as much as they can out of a new product that depletes their precious tobacco tax revenues.

At the very least, such proposals lay waste to previous claims that punitive taxation of tobacco products was about saving lives. This new attack on e-cigs demonstrates that for many politicians, it really was always about bossing people around. And the money. 


PHOTO: New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg gestures while speaking to the media about a judge’s ruling on “stop and frisk” at City Hall in New York, Aug. 12, 2013. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid




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Excellent reporting.

Posted by Elaine_Keller | Report as abusive

Thank you for writing this! Its about time someone calls out these money hungry control freaks. I’m sure the Mayor has his own “enjoyments” he partakes in, just like everybody else. Lets not forget, recent studies also show nicotine may be beneficial to many people. read here, just for an overview http://www.forces.org/evidence/hamilton/ other/nicotine.htm. The truth about e-cigs as a safer alternative can not be hidden anymore. The studies are starting to pile up. Its actually absurd that the Mayor would ultimately protect the tobacco companies by making e-cigs invisible and less available. Mayor, LIVE and LET LIVE!!!!

Posted by 2coils | Report as abusive

The last paragraph sums up the current state of tobacco regulation. Tobacco control has been corrupted by money and ideology and has discarded any real attempt to improve public health.

The science is quite clear that electronic cigarettes and smokeless tobacco (contrary to common myth) are about 99% less harmful then smoking. If smokers simply switched to low risk alternatives to inhaling smoke millions of lives would be saved, and yet tobacco control is fighting tooth and nail against tobacco harm reduction and continues to lie and deceive the public about the dangers of smokeless tobacco and electronic cigarettes.

It is long past due to simply tell the truth about the significantly reduced harm of low risk tobacco products and let the public decide what products they use. I have faith that given good information people will make the rational choice for themselves and essentially eliminate the harm caused by smoking and switch to low risk alternatives.

Posted by AlanSelk | Report as abusive

I’ve recently started Vaping on an eGo-Twist.. I have not had a cigarette since July 29,2013.. That may not sound like a long time, but I’ll assure you it is at least 4 packs of cigarettes ago. That amount of Tobacco not going into my lungs has given me energy that I haven’t felt in a long time. It has also offered less stress to my breathing capability.

How dare Mayor Michael Bloomberg deny us the right to improve our health with an alternative to something that has been proven to kill. Maybe we should bring charges against him for plotting the eventual demise of an entire city. His motive would be lining his pockets with money.

Posted by Mediagirl1 | Report as abusive

There are very powerfull groups that will do anything they can to stop the advance of e-sigs. Mr. Bloomberg and his minions are falling for some of that pressure. I hope they correct themselves in the near future.
My wife smoked for over twenty years. I finally got her to move to e-sigs. After about 6 months, the habit was broken and she was able to stop using those too. That is why there will be massive campaigns against them. Tobacco is a multi-billion dollar business and it will not go down without a fight.

Posted by tmc | Report as abusive

“Of all the tyranies, A tyranny exercised for the good of it’s victims may be the most oppressive. It may be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber baron’s cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated; but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end, for they do so with the approval of their consciences.”
C.S. Lewis

Just another creep who think he knows better. I’ve also quit tobacco with e-cigs & I have to break the law here in Canada to do it. Fortunatly I know what drug smugglers know: Only 2% of packages are searched at the border. So I’m a criminal & a smuggler now because I don’t want to smoke cigarette & pay taxes on them.

Posted by Duffman | Report as abusive

After 40+ years smoking, now 4 years smoke free because of vaping . . . I feel great! My health has never been better!!

I often wonder why these anti-e-cig people want me to continue smoking. The only conclusion I can figure out is they must want me/people to die from smoking or they don’t want to lose their “money” if I/people quit smoking.

It truly is a shame that many people are believing “a load of bull” about vaping, if they had the “truth about vaping”, they could improved their health tremendously.

Posted by MarthaSew | Report as abusive

“Bloomberg is making it evident that he really does just want to boss people around — even if it’s not for their well-being”

That’s not news to me, but it is great to see it being said and demonstrated in public as it should be. I don’t know if this man is a control freak or a misguided messiah type, but add the money and he sure is a first class meddler in the lives of those he seeks to criminalize and regulate. To echo a comment above, “Mayor, LIVE and LET LIVE!”

Posted by citizen033 | Report as abusive

Is Bloomberg going to ban nicotine gum and patches, too? Where is his ire for those products? It’s the campaign money he cares about, otherwise he would sing the praises of the e-cig as a valuable stop-smoking tool. E-cigs are catching on. The tobacco market is putting pressure on politicians to protect the market. This does not require a stretch of our imagination, nor is it a mystery.

Posted by JL4 | Report as abusive

The truth is finally coming out and those who are anti tobacco/nicotine can’t stand it..I’ve been saying all along that it’s not about health, but the money that is being lost by the states-sin taxes and pharmaceutical companies-ineffective NRT’s. Adults have the right to be able to choose a safer option.

Posted by debbieg | Report as abusive

It’s not uncommon to find the “interests of the powerful” in occasional conflict with the “interests of the individual”. When citizens actually cut their electricity or water use, utility companies instituted a “customer” or “meter” charge to replace their lost revenue. When fuel efficient cars reduce gasoline consumption, states raise the rate of fuel taxes to replace their lost revenue. “We, the people” are perpetually forced to play in s rigged game.

In this case, there is a middle ground. The parties could agree to tax e-cigarettes at half the rate of real tobacco products. That still offers individuals a substantial incentive to switch, and taxing entities get “half a loaf” of the lost revenue.

When both sides are dissatisfied, that is usually the best possible compromise. But we are today a country of many, many lawyers who will defend the alternative absolutes to their client’s last dollar. Hint: That’s ALWAYS you and me!

Posted by OneOfTheSheep | Report as abusive

The difference is that gas tax was being used as a form of pay-by-the-mile-to-use-roads tax, and hybrids still do the miles, so they still need to help pay for roads.

E-cig users are NOT continuing to ruin our health or anybody elses, or leave butts around, or cause any of the 1000 deaths from fires caused by smoking every year.

We are paying for what we are doing.

BTW: UNINTENDED Consequence? My foot.

Posted by Karyyl | Report as abusive

This is a drop in the bucket for Mayor Mike’s controlled NYC. He installed a Muni-Meter system that rips-off any business user in a big way. If it were a private business model, the Muni-Meter system would be in court for Fraud. I will not go into the demented bicycle lanes that nobody uses nor the new timing on all traffic lights. All designed to increase traffic problems. If you want to smoke, and are aware of the consequences, go ahead. Nicotine is a very powerful,LEGAL, drug with lots of $$$ to influence. As for Mayor Mike, I hope the next Mayor has more respect for the residents of the City. After all, NYC is not Disneyworld…or is it?

Posted by rikfre | Report as abusive

@OOTS, you wrote:

“It’s not uncommon to find the “interests of the powerful” in occasional conflict with the “interests of the individual”. ”

Occasional? You crack me up old man.

Posted by JL4 | Report as abusive

Bloomberg seems to have a grudge against soda, too. Shouldn’t he be looking at banning tea, coffee, lemonade and orange juice, too? Anything with caffeine or sugar should by his logic be vilified for perpetuating addiction to the substances that people buy sodas to get. It’s a slippery path when you make it your business to protect people from themselves, even when there is very little risk. You end up throwing out the healthy alternatives and keeping people on the unhealthy ones.

Shame on you, Bloomberg.

Posted by Nelson009 | Report as abusive

Excellent article!
Has anyone ever noticed how the alphabet soup groups (ala, ACA,a aha, CDC, tobaccoFreeKids etc) never like to disclose the fact that they receive funding from Pfitzer big Pharma, owned by Johnson & Johnson. Why don’t they like to disclose their backers? They enjoy telling people to quit smoking by using Pfitzer smoking cessation products, you would think they’d be enthusiastic about thanking the companies who give them the stuff they promote. Maybe I heard wrong? I read it, maybe I read wrong? Doesn’t matter I guess, in the long run, just so long as Johnson is happy I guess.

Posted by skyera | Report as abusive

[…] Besides hurting taxpayers and diminishing state coffers, e-cigarette tax hikes also pose a threat to public health. Overtaxing products accredited to potentially saving lives makes little sense. In opposition to former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s hypocrisy on public health for raising taxes on these products, American for Tax Reform’s Patrick Gleason wrote: […]

Posted by Don’t Tax E-Cigarettes | The Right Way | Report as abusive

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