I grew up in New York City during the 1970s and 1980s, eating out and drinking regularly several nights a week. I vividly recall what it was like to be near smokers, whether it was my friends sucking down cloves at the bars (we were 14), weird old men immersed in a smoky haze at the local coffee shop, or grandpa Ed lighting up a cigar at the fancy seafood joint (he gave me the band to wear as a ring, so I was cool with it).
I never liked smoke or smoking, but the law didn’t forbid it back then and people just accepted it as a part of our culture, like being near a smelly person who doesn’t use deodorant. What are you going to do? Outlaw that? Part of the ritual of going out was coming home smelling like smoke - and hoping no one would light up at a good restaurant and impose cigarette smell on the rest of us.
Fast forward to 2003, and I’m a food writer at Time Out New York covering Bloomberg’s intention to forbid smoke in bars and restaurants. The legislation is controversial, for sure. But the proposed law is not predicated on the idea that smoking is always annoying to non-smokers or that it directly affects the smell and taste of food or that the odors linger in clothes no matter where you sat or that smoke stings the eyes. No, it was the fact that servers and bartenders and busboys are being subjected to unhealthy working conditions.
A few days ago, a related debate emerged: Should e-cigarettes be banned from restaurants? The topic has ruffled feathers among smokers, diners, servers, restaurateurs, chefs...and lawyers. My first reaction was: No one will be able to ban these contraptions, no matter how unsightly they are unless they can prove that e-cigarettes directly interfere with the customer experience or worker health.
And from what I can tell, e-cigs don’t smell awful, don’t invade clothes, and don’t leave ash or stubs or even smoke. Yes, they look a little silly, but if it helps someone stop real smoking (which is harmful for many reasons beyond the fact that there’s nicotine in the product), then who cares if someone lights up one of these pretend smokes? They’re like toothpicks in that respect, and you can’t ban tacky.
Below are some facts that shed light on the issue. Personally, e-cigs remind me a lot of chewing gum. I wouldn’t use the stuff in a nice restaurant, but I also wouldn’t advocate banning the practice outright.
E-cigarettes don’t stink You won’t smell the e-cig of the person at the next table because these battery-powered devices emit vapor - like the stuff that comes out of your mouth when you breathe. No one’s palate will be wrecked by sitting near an e-smoker, as far as I can tell.
E-cigarettes are kinda green in theory There are no butts to toss on the ground and no air pollution created., though, admittedly, a smoker may eventually need to dispose of the battery.
E-cigarettes are tacky and dorky Many critics single out the fact that e-cigs are simply plastic sticks. Some of these gizmos sport fake burning ends, too. As Eric Ripert said: “It's weird to see someone smoking with a plastic cigarette.”
E-cigarettes have nicotine but none of the other harmful ingredients of normal cigs CNN Health explains what’s in these products and discusses their safety. The verdict: More research is required because no one knows if there is a long-term impact on smokers or on the environment.
The law is murky It’s not clear if Bloomberg or the next mayor (or politician) will attempt to ban e-cigs too. What is known is that e-cigarettes are clearly exempted from existing smoking bans in some cases. See the website for Americans for Nonsmokers' Rights for state- and town-specific rules and regulations.
E-cigarettes may keep smokers from leaving the table and smoking outside Chefs don’t like it when the food arrives at the table on time but the patrons are outside smoking. Dishes get cold or else they come back to the kitchen and get stuck under a heat lamp taking up space. And many New Yorkers can’t stand it when smoke rises up into windows as small crowds of (drunk and rowdy) smokers band together outside to satisfy their urges in between bites and sips. Keep smokers inside and these annoyances would be kept to a minimum.