Intended for healthcare professionals


Smokers’ rights group challenges New York City’s ban on e-cigarettes

BMJ 2014; 348 doi: (Published 27 March 2014) Cite this as: BMJ 2014;348:g2422
  1. Michael McCarthy
  1. 1Seattle

A smokers’ rights group has filed a suit challenging New York City’s ban on the use of electronic cigarettes (e-cigarettes) in enclosed public spaces.

The law, which the New York City Council passed last December, amended an earlier statute, the 1995 Smoke-Free Air Act, which banned the smoking of tobacco in many enclosed public places.

E-cigarettes are battery powered devices containing a heating element that vaporizes a flavored nicotine solution, allowing users to inhale the vaporized nicotine much as they would while smoking tobacco. Users of e-cigarettes are often called “vapers” and the use of e-cigarettes “vaping.”

Proponents have argued that e-cigarettes are a safe alternative to cigarettes and are often used by smokers who are trying to wean themselves from tobacco smoking.

Public health officials, however, have expressed concern that the products encourage tobacco use by addicting users to nicotine and by making smoking more socially acceptable. E-cigarettes are not currently regulated by the US Food and Drug Administration.

In its suit the smokers’ rights group New York City Citizens Lobbying Against Smoker Harassment, or NYC CLASH, argued that the law was unconstitutional because it violated the New York State constitution’s “one subject rule,” which stipulates that no local laws can “embrace more than one subject.”

The stated purpose of the 1995 law was to protect the public from the harmful effects of environmental tobacco smoke, also called secondhand smoke.

But the new legislation, known as Local Law 152, prohibits smoking and the use of electronic cigarettes—which, the plaintiffs have claimed in their lawsuit, are “two distinct subjects” and are thus in violation of the one subject rule. They argued, “Local Law 152 is really about targeting personal behavior through regulation of a product rather than about protecting citizens from involuntary [environmental tobacco smoke] exposure.”


Cite this as: BMJ 2014;348:g2422