Blu Electronic cigarettes are demonstrated during a studio shoot in...

Blu Electronic cigarettes are demonstrated during a studio shoot in Melville. Credit: Newsday / Audrey C. Tiernan

Electronic cigarettes have boomed in popularity over the last couple of years, according to New York City's health department, but a plan to regulate the plastic devices in the same fashion as their paper counterparts has set up a debate about the untested products.

The City Council's health committee is set to hold a hearing Wednesday on legislation that would regulate electronic cigarettes as the city does other tobacco products, banning them from use in parks, restaurants and bars.

Electronic cigarette companies say their products are safer because they don't produce tobacco smoke, while health experts argue that too many unknown factors make it better to be safe than sorry.

"We cannot take the words of the tobacco industry because they have had a long history of lying about the science," said Chris Bostic, deputy director for policy for the national anti-smoking nonprofit Action on Smoking and Health.

Since the devices don't contain tobacco, they are exempt from the city's regulatory laws. Mayor Michael Bloomberg has signed a law that set the minimum age for purchasing electronic cigarettes at 21.

Spike Babaian, co-owner of the electronic-cigarette chain Vape New York, said she feels the city is unnecessarily punishing her industry, which she maintained is trying to help smokers quit.

Health Commissioner Thomas Farley, however, said the devices encourage smoking. There is no way to track the number of electronic cigarette smokers in the United States because the industry isn't regulated, but city health officials said that total is on the rise.

"They may introduce a new generation to nicotine addiction, which could lead to their smoking combustion cigarettes," Farley said in a statement.

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