At the end of 2013, Mayor Michael Bloomberg signed into law a ban that would prohibit e-cigs wherever tobacco smoking was disallowed in New York City. Naturally, many vapers were dumbfounded by the decision, which seemed to rely on common misconceptions about the differences between vaping and smoking tobacco. Now, Russell Wishtart, who hosts a vaping podcast called Click, Bang!, has filed a lawsuit against the City. His suit has backing from NYC CLASH (Citizens Lobbying Aginst Smoker Harassment) and other vaping advocacy parties.
A bit of background:
All of this revolves around the NYC Smoke-Free Air Act, which was enacted in 2002 to, ostensibly, protect non-smokers from second-hand smoke. The law sought to prohibit smoking in public beaches, pedestrian plazas, and the city’s 1,500+ public parks. In the past decade, it has increasingly limited the areas in which a person can light up. And now vapes have been lumped into the ban (it should be noted that the e-cig ban was signed during Bloombergs’ second-to-last day as Mayor).
As discussed on the CLASH site, the lawsuit is built on a number of truths:
1. As stated in the NYC Charter, “Every local law shall embrace only one subject,” which basically means that a law must stick to its original point (ie. you can not mangle the meaning/definition of a law to include things that aren’t relevant).
2. The intent of the Smoke-Free Air Act, as expressed in official documents, is to protect non-smokers from second-hand smoke.
3. The official reasons for adding e-cigs into the Smoke-Free Air Act, as stated in the bill, lists a number of factors that include “E-Cig use may increase the social acceptability of smoking” and “E-Cigs may interfere with smokers’ attempts to quit.” But there is *no* mention about second-hand smoke, or about exposure to non-smokers.
Therefore, the lawsuit takes aim at the discrepancy between fact and intention; while the Smoke-Free Air Act aims to limit second-hand smoke, it does not provide direct evidence that vapes produce second-hand smoke. On the ground level, Wishtart and CLASH are attacking “…the city council’s violation of NYC’s ‘One Subject Rule,'” since e-cigs are off-subject when it comes to second-hand smoke. In the larger picture, the groups say they are fighting against the infringement of personal lifestyle choices.
The ban on vapes, as e-cigs have grown more popular, has unfortunately gained traction in SoCal as well. On March 4, the Los Angeles City Council voted to ban the use of vapes in restaurants, bars, and other public spaces; the law is now awaiting a signature from Mayor Eric Garcetti, who has said he plans to sign it. Smaller municipalities like Alhambra are ahead of the game; in October of 2013 they’d voted to categorize vapes in the same category as cigarettes. A person caught vaping (or smoking) in public may face a fine of $100 for a first offense. A third offense can be as pricey as $500.
If you would like to help out on the cause, you can make a donation to CLASH’s legal defense funds. For a more detailed explanation of the initiative, you can listen to a recorded podcast in which Wishtart talks about his plans.