The government in the largest city in the U.S. has made it clear that vape shops and vapers are not welcome.
New York City just passed laws that
- Cap the number of vape shops in the city at half of the current number (allowing the number to decline through attrition)
- Force e-cigarette sellers to be licensed. Licenses are not transferable
- Prohibit any business that sells cigarettes from also selling vapor products
- Prevent residents in apartment buildings with fewer than 10 units from vaping in common areas
The vaping restrictions were part of a package of tobacco-related laws that were pushed through the council rapidly, with backing from Mayor Bill de Blasio. And it was truly a package: council members weren’t allowed to vote on each law separately; they were forced to choose all or none.
The headline news was that the council established a “floor price” (the lowest allowable price at retail) of $13 for a pack of cigarettes, and banned sales of cigarettes in pharmacies. But the way the laws advanced was ugly.
A law firm representing the New York Association of Grocery Stores accused the council of violating open meeting rules, according to Crain’s New York Business. The firm says that since the health committee passed a bill that that added the term “electronic cigarettes retail dealer” to the city administrative code at the same time it passed the vaping legislation (which depended on the change in code language), there must have been a secret meeting to make sure both bills passed simultaneously.
Along with the $13 cigarette price, the council established an $8 minimum price for a package of smokeless tobacco. Studies have shown that as many as half of the cigarettes sold in New York City are on the illegal black market. That means that smokers may be able to find cigarettes that cost less than a package of smokeless tobacco that is likely 98-100 percent safer.
On August 8, the council’s health committee unanimously approved the package of bills. Then without any public debate, study or consultation, the whole council voted on the package the next day. The legislation advanced so quickly that CASAA, which had issued a call to action just a day before the first vote, had to add an urgent update the morning of the final vote. Needless to say, the extreme speed of the council’s actions prevented any momentum from opposition forces.
Also, something good happened
Meanwhile, one tiny ray of hope has appeared for vapers and smokers in New York. Randy Abreu, a lawyer and former Obama administration employee who believes in tobacco harm reduction, is challenging incumbent Fernando Cabrera for the Democratic nomination in District 14 in the Bronx.
The primary election is on September 12. Cabrera is the author of the law that caps the number of vape shops in the city.
Vapers and vape shop owners in the Bronx who want to do something concrete to help change minds would be wise to volunteer for Abreu’s campaign. This is how change happens. If elected, Abreu would be in a position to influence other young progressives, and to stand up publicly for vaping in a city where we have almost no friends.