Years after most American cities have enacted smoking bans, the City of New Orleans is poised to enact one. With a unanimous vote Jan. 22, the City Council has forwarded the measure on to Mayor Mitch Landrieu, and it would go into effect 90 days after he signs it.

The ordinance would ban smoking in all enclosed public places, private clubs, correctional facilities and school buildings, as well as banning outdoor smoking within 25 feet of public property, five feet of commercial buildings and in public parks during events hosted from the city. However, it would allow smoking in the common areas of apartment buildings, retirement and nursing homes, cigar and hookah bars established before Jan. 8 and public events not sponsored by the city.

Most disconcertingly, the smoking ban would include e-cigarettes, which do not pose the same risks that conventional cigarettes do. In fact, switching to e-cigarettes serves to reduce the harm tobacco does to both its users and those around them.

One of the rationales behind a smoking ban is that second-hand smoke is harmful to those who breathe it in. From a public health rationale, a ban on second-hand smoke actually makes sense given the harmful effects it has on non-smokers. The conflict is whether or not a ban infringes on private property rights. However, from a public health rationale, there is no evidence that vaping poses to a risk to non-smokers.

R Street’s Eli Lehrer addressed this issue in an op-ed in The Weekly Standard:

New York, Los Angeles, Chicago and Philadelphia have already passed municipal bans on ‘vaping’ in public that treat the products as if they were cigarettes. But the rationale for conflating e-cigarettes and tobacco cigarettes is weak. The main ingredient in e-cigarette aerosol (other than water vapor) is propylene glycol, which is also a common propellant in asthma inhalers, and its toxicological category is ‘generally recognized as safe,’ according to the FDA. An October 2012 study published in the journal Inhalation Toxicology found that, for all byproducts measured, e-cigarettes produced very small exposures relative to tobacco cigarettes. Common sense, as well as the great bulk of existing research, suggests that e-cigarettes and their vapor present essentially no risk to bystanders.

In addition, studies have shown that vaping and e-cigarettes have less health risks than traditional tobacco cigarettes. E-cigarettes deliver the nicotine that conventional cigarettes do without all the harmful tar and chemicals. E-cigarettes can reduce the harmful effects of conventional cigarettes by as much as 98 percent. The reason is because nicotine itself isn’t the killer in cigarettes; it’s the tar and chemicals that come from burning tobacco that causes cancer and other health problems.

With e-cigarettes are included in the public smoking ban ordinance, New Orleanians will lose out on one of the most effective tools to help them quit smoking. According to the National Institutes of Health, stop smoking medicines such as nicotine patches fail for approximately 95 percent of all smokers. However, recent surveys show that e-cigarettes can serve as a valuable tool to get smokers to quit smoking. If e-cigarette users don’t stop smoking entirely, it can get them to reduce their tobacco usage. A survey from the University of North Carolina found that a majority of physicians believed that e-cigarettes were safer than conventional cigarettes and found they helped people quit smoking. Finally, despite hysteria that e-cigarettes would increase tobacco usage among non-smokers, the British government found that e-cigarettes were overwhelmingly used by former and current smokers.

While the City of New Orleans is clearly well-intentioned with its proposed smoking ban, it needs to make sure that it does not throw away positive advances in public health at the same time. The city should exempt e-cigarettes and “vaping” from its smoking ban. The evidence from a public health standpoint simply doesn’t support a vaping ban, which could ultimately do more harm than good in reducing deaths from tobacco.

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