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A case for, and against, vaping in New York City's public spaces

For long-time smoker — and Metro staffer — Pete Blankenstein, switching from cigarettes to vaping helped him “feel 100 percent better.”
vaping nyc public spaces
Salesman Peter Blankenstein sneaks a quick vaping session in the Metro New York office. Photo: Lenyon Whitaker

Fourteen years after New York banned the use of tobacco products at public indoor spaces across the state, their electronic substitute is following suit.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Monday signed legislation that adds electronic cigarettes, also known as vapes, to the state’s Clean Indoor Air Act.

“These products are marketed as healthier alternatives to cigarettes, but the reality is they also carry long-term risks to the health of users and those around them,” Cuomo said in a statement. “This measure closes another dangerous loophole in the law, creating a stronger, healthier New York for all.”

Under the current law, only tobacco products such as cigarettes, cigars and pipes are banned from public indoor areas such as offices, restaurants or bars. But by the end of November, e-cigarettes will be as well.


“E-cigarettes often contain toxic chemicals in addition to nicotine, something bystanders should not be forced to breathe,” said bill sponsor Kemp Hannon, a state senator from Nassau County. “With recent reports showing their use among minors increasing, New York must continue to work to regulate these devices in a common sense manner.”

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data from 2016, more than 2 million students in U.S. middle and high schools used a vape within the past 30 days.

But the statewide ban will have little effect on New York City, as former Mayor Michael Bloomberg added vapes to the city’s Smoke-Free Air Act in 2013.

Plus, about 70 percent of state municipalities have such bans already in place, The New York Times reported, citing the American Lung Association.

What’s healthier: Vaping or cigarettes?

While the CDC confirms vapes are less harmful than regular cigarettes, the aerosol used in e-cigarettes often includes nicotine, metals like lead, “volatile” organic compounds and cancer-causing agents, the agency said.

But for long-time smoker — and Metro staffer — Pete Blankenstein, switching to vaping helped him “feel 100 percent better.”

After smoking a pack and a half a day from 2006 to 2015, the Jersey City resident no longer wakes up “feeling like crap or coughing.” In fact, he hits the gym and now runs two to three miles a day.

“I can speak from personal experience, that vaping is way better than cigarettes,” Blankenstein said.

Shari White, another Metro staffer from New Jersey, disagrees as has the same reaction to vape smoke that she does to cigarette smoke.

“I’m very sensitive to smell, and it makes my nose and throat burn,” she said. “No one knows the long-term damage that it can to do the respiratory system.”

That is true, according to Rob McConnell, an internal medicine specialist at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles.

Because they've only been around for about 10 years, “people haven’t been using e-cigarettes long enough to answer that question,” McConnell told Science News for Students earlier this year.

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