The late, great HL Mencken defined puritanism as “the haunting fear that someone, somewhere is having a good time.” I haven’t visited Michael Bloomberg’s New York City in more than a decade, but if I landed at LaGuardia tomorrow, I’d half expect to be greeted by officials right out of Tompkins Harrison Matteson’s painting “Trial of George Jacobs of Salem for Witchcraft.”
When they’re not banning tobacco they’re banning trans-fats. When they’re not banning trans-fats they’re banning large soft drinks. And when their soft drink ban gets quashed, their next target is electronic cigarettes. “For the public health!” is the new “I saw Sarah Good with the Devil! I saw Good Osburn with the devil! I saw Bridget Bishop with the Devil!”
If you don’t believe me, believe the politicians who voted to extend the city’s smoking ban to “not smoking, but kind of looks like smoking if you’re really, really, really stupid.”
City Council Speaker Christine Quinn doesn’t cite any actual health concerns in explaining her support for the ban on “vaping.” Rather she simply asserts that it will be harder to enforce the actual smoking ban if it’s not also illegal to do something a blind, deaf, mentally challenged cop who happens to be high on crack at the moment might mistake for smoking.
That justification being obviously sketchy, she retreats to her real reason: “Very few people feel uncomfortable now saying you can’t smoke in public. We don’t want to step backwards in that.” In other words, not banning e-cigarettes might cause New Yorkers to re-think letting Christine Quinn run their lives. Danger, Will Robinson! Danger!
Councilman James Gennaro and “Health Commissioner” Thomas A. Farley refer to the absence of a ban on exhalations of vapor containing 1/5 the potentially toxic content of “second-hand smoke” as a “loophole.” “We see these cigarettes [sic] are really starting to proliferate, and it’s unacceptable,” says Gennaro. “I get reports of people smoking cigarettes [sic — they’re not cigarettes, they’re not “smoked,” and what he really means is “I get reports of people living their lives without consulting, and genuflecting before, me”] in public libraries. Certainly, they’re becoming more common in restaurants and bars.”
But of course it’s not fair to attribute all this solely to the control complexes of sociopaths like Quinn, Gennaro and Farley. There’s also money involved. Big money — $1.50 in city taxes on every pack of “real” cigarettes legally sold (about 60% of cigarettes are smuggled in to avoid the city’s most enthusiastic muggers, its politicians), plus whatever portion of the $4.35 per pack state tax gets piped through to Quinn, Gennaro and Company.
It’s about control. It’s about money. What it most certainly is not even a little bit about is “public health.”
That’s not to say that e-cigarettes are “risk-free.” They may not be; the few studies done so far suggest that there may be minor (a full order of magnitude less severe than those associated with “real” cigarettes) risks involved.
But there’s no reasonable doubt whatsoever that electronic cigarettes are safer than smoke tobacco. Nor is there any doubt at all that electronic cigarettes are among the most effective ways of getting smokers to stop smoking tobacco — dinging the Quinn/Gennaro slush fund by $1.50+ per pack of cigarettes not smoked, and until the passage of the new ban, ever so slightly loosening the dog collars that Quinn/Gennaro and Company have spent so many years putting around every New Yorker’s neck.
New Yorkers will be worse off for the electronic cigarette ban. And they’d be a lot better off without “their” city government.
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