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A Tale of Two Cities

Chicago's City Council just voted down a public use ban for e-cigarettes, while New York's lame duck government went ahead with the classification of e-cigs as tobacco products that may not be used anywhere that smoking cigarettes is banned.

The New York City Council had to ignore a crowd of angry vapers, as well as the evidence, in order to push the ban through, and the whole brouhaha has spawned a new organization to campaign for vapers' rights. The group New Yorkers for Smarter Smoking Alternatives (NYSSA), was founded recently by lobbyist David Schwartz of a concern called Gotham Government Relations. NYSSA's website is already a gold mine of information about the controversy, replete with helpful links to help citizens take political action. It seems like a localized version of the national organization Consumer Advocates for Smoke-Free Alternatives Association, which has been campaigning for vapers' rights for some time now. The founding of NYSSA in response to the Bloomberg administration's overweening control efforts gives us another example of the way suppression is turning e-cig users into a political and social movement. The regulators do not seem aware that repressive social control usually creates popular opposition that eventually "throws the bums out", a pattern re-enacted many times in history without leaving a noticeable imprint in the memories of repressive regulators. It will be interesting to see how New York's incoming Democratic mayoral regime will deal with the issue, and the angry protestors. Newly elected mayor-to-be Bill De Blasio has made statements favorable to the ban and similar over-protective measures of the outgoing regime, but he may be more responsive to citizen activism on the issue.

On December 9, Chicago's City Council voted on mayor Emanuel Rahm's proposal to enact the same kind of ban, but it was voted down in favor of a much weaker measure increasing the distance of the ban on sale of menthol cigarettes near schools to 500 feet. Chicago aldermen voiced opposition to the public use ban, showing an awareness of the differences between e-cigs and toxic cigarettes, and unwilling to deny consumers the right to use an effective quit-smoking aid. “We’re punishing a group of people for trying not to smoke," said 5th precinct Alderman Leslie Hairston. “There is no proof that water vapor in the air does anything,' Ms. Hairston went on. "If that is the case, humidifiers are gone. And boiling water is gone in restaurants.” Fellow Alderman Brendan Reilly of the 42nd precinct revealed that he recently began vaping in an attempt to quit smoking, as he puffed on his e-cig at the meeting.

“We’re raising peoples’ cost of buying a pack of cigarettes, but they’re trying to quit," noted Ray Suarez of the 31st precinct. "They’re going to go to vaping and we’re going to limit that, too. At what point do we stop regulating peoples’ lives and making the excuse of safety when we have no documentation to prove this is even a safety hazard and we have no way of enforcing it?”

“We’re trying to protect a set of people [who] don’t need protection," added the first precinct's Joe Moreno. "I don’t see why we need to protect people from something I can [create] when I make my tea in the morning. I have no problem with my 10-year-old daughter being in the kitchen when that happens,”

Why are Chicago's City Council members so much more sensible than New York's? Do the waters of Lake Michigan contain vitamins that enhance brain function? Could those waters be pumped back toward the Hudson?

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