Vapors and Emotions Rise at Hearing on E-Cigarettes

A woman in a skintight dress lounged in the front row of the City Council chamber on Wednesday, sucking on an electronic cigarette and blowing out sweetly scented clouds, as if she were at a nightclub. Other people in the crowd of about 200 did the same, puffing on devices like a red-tipped cigarette clone, a green glass hookah and something that looked like a black pencil with a glowing blue tip.

Unlike smoke from regular cigarettes, which would have formed a fetid smog over the room, the plumes from these cigarettes left only the most fleeting impression before evaporating. The point of the theatrical provocateurs seemed to be that e-cigarettes were innocuous and legal, and should stay that way.

But John LaSorsa, 16, a student at Tottenville High School on Staten Island, was not buying it. He swatted away the clouds, before testifying in favor of a bill that would add electronic cigarettes to the ban on smoking in most public places in New York.

“My nose and throat burns,” Mr. LaSorsa testified. “I have an extreme headache right now because I’ve been sitting behind them smoking electronic cigarettes.”

In a city where the technocratic mayor prides himself on making decisions based on the evidence, the proposed ban produced one of the most scientifically vague and emotionally charged health committee hearings in recent memory. Anyone who used the word “smoke” or “smoking” to refer to electronic cigarettes, which typically contain nicotine, was instantly corrected by audience members hissing “Vapor!” and “Vaping!”

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