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State lawmakers press for e-cig ban

This Sept. 25, 2013 photo shows a woman

This Sept. 25, 2013 photo shows a woman smoking a "Blu" e-cigarette. Credit: Getty Images / Jim Watson

ALBANY -- The New York State Legislature is moving to ban electronic cigarettes in bars, restaurants, offices and other public indoor spaces statewide where traditional smoking is already prohibited.

Several bills with powerful sponsors also would target the sale of concentrated liquid nicotine. The liquid is used to refill some e-cigarette cartridges and has prompted a spike in calls to the state's poison hotline, many involving children under 5 years old, officials said.

"People will say, 'You have a right to smoke.' But what about the people who don't smoke? They have rights, too," Senate Health Committee chairman Kemp Hannon (R-Garden City) said before a legislative hearing Monday on the issue.

The products are sold without regulation outside New York City and advertised on television under BLU and other names. The city recently added e-cigarettes to its Clean Indoor Air Act, which treats them as tobacco cigarettes.

Republican and Democratic senators said Monday they will do the same statewide before the session ends in June. The Assembly and Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo are considering similar measures.

Major tobacco companies now own many of the e-cigarette companies. Those who warn of health dangers from e-cigarettes say producers use marketing with celebrities or extolling rebellious individualism, to attract young people. Similar tobacco ads have long been banned from TV.

Some e-cigarettes are flavored, with scents called "Hello Kitty," "Gummy Bears," and "Sex on the Beach."

"It's the old playbook all over again," said Sen. Gustavo Rivera (D-Bronx).

However, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration hasn't yet ruled on the safety of e-cigarettes or their effectiveness in quitting traditional smoking.

"We are troubled that the proposed bill disregards recent scientific research," Lorillard Tobacco Co. of Greensboro, N.C., maker of BLU e-cigarettes, said in written testimony.

New York's legislative proposal "imposes restrictions on adult use of these products in advance of an adequate basis to do so," Altria, the parent company of the Philip Morris USA tobacco company and maker of Nu Mark's MarkTen e-cigarette, said in written testimony. Altria spent $3 million on lobbying in Albany last year and donated another $71,000 to state candidates and political parties.

The New York Association of Convenience Stores and the Empire State Restaurant and Tavern Association cited written testimony by former U.S. Surgeon General Richard Carmona, who called e-cigarettes "one extremely promising solution" to helping smokers quit tobacco. Carmona has joined the board of NJOY, a major e-cigarette company.

Andrew Hyland of the Roswell Cancer Institute in Buffalo testified that "there is reason to be hopeful about their potential to reduce the disease burden caused by tobacco. However, there is reason to be very concerned."

"Until, and unless, research shows that e-cigarettes are safe and effective, we need regulation," said Dr. Lawrence Eisenstein, Nassau County health commissioner.

The term for using the devices is vaping, for the water vapor the battery-powered devices emit in heating nicotine and other liquids that do not contain tobacco.

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