Mike Bloomberg: Nanny State Superhero (E-Cigarette Edition)

A cloud hangs over Gotham. In the city streets, confused citizens are unsure where to turn. Insulated, comfortable officials have for too long been lax in their appointed duties, allowing opportunists to flout convention and the law. The city needs a hero. The people cast about blindly in the haze for the one who can rescue them.

They call, but will he come?

He will. Out of the fog of bureaucracy steps a man — a man who offers himself as a beacon for this wayward people. He is the hero this city needs — even if the people he rescues decide that actually, y’know, maybe they really didn’t want him as much as they thought.

Our hero, of course, is Mayor Michael Bloomberg of New York City. He is well-known for his ample supply of dollars, awful Spanish, and near-total lack of ability to relate to the common man.

Nanny Mike has been castigating the ostensibly free people of New York for their dietary choices over the last several years. Trans fats were banned, salt content reduced, soda sizes threatened… all in pursuit of a dubious public health agenda that is as ineffectual and easily circumvented as most any bureaucratic beau ideal.

The latest misguided effort from the moralizing billionaire (no doubt conceived in a fit of boredom during a dolorous viewing of R.I.P.D on a return flight from Bermuda) involves the regulation and banning of  certain types of electronic cigarettes.

E-cigs have been discussed in this space before; you may recall that I am an ardent supporter of their use, primarily as a means to lower the indisputably real health risks of smoking. Of course, there is also the joy of stepping right up to the edge of the law and thumbing one’s nose. I will admit I derive a certain satisfaction from tweaking a culture that has come to view smoking itself as a moral offense. It’s to the point where cigarette-smoking is on par with wearing an Obama mask at a rodeo.

E-cigs, of course, contain no actual tobacco and emit no actual smoke. Reports indicate that they are healthier (read: less damaging) than actual cigarettes, containing minute amounts of vegetable and/or propylene glycol in addition to nicotine. But cultural momentum is a hard thing to arrest when all you have to oppose it are things like science and facts.

There are many people invested in the anti-smoking message and anything that introduces a shade of grey into this business is distinctly unwelcome. The very appearance of smoking is to be removed from the public eye lest the poor dumb slobs (that’s you) make the wrong choices with their money and health.

If it were only New York, that would be bad enough. Yet more troubling is the trend across the country to equivocate e-cigs with traditional nicotine delivery systems.  California was considering a bill, now thankfully shelved, that would have placed a burden on not just e-cigs, but medical marijuana vaporizers as well. It may be brought up again. Several other states have begun efforts to update their existing laws and ban e-cig use in public spaces. Worldwide, the trend to restrict continues: France has regulated e-cigs in the same way they do tobacco.

In the world of bureaucracy, the trend is unfortunately swinging towards restrictive, business-quashing, job-killing, and potentially health-damaging regulation. Why? Much of the worry seems to stem from teens gaining access to e-cigs, or flavored nicotine fluid being more appealing to them. As a societal concern, this one could be overblown. Or as one of the e-cig manufacturers put it:

“A fifteen-year-old once asked me for a smoke in a bodega. I said, ‘No, I don’t smoke, I sell e-cigs.’ He told me he doesn’t smoke ‘robot dicks.’ “

I would hate to think that the City Council of NYC would approve a bill like this based on the misconception that youth do in fact prefer to smoke robot dicks. Where is the research on this important question?

Robot genitalia aside, here’s the essential thing: banning or restricting electronic cigarettes will ultimately do little to encourage healthy behavior. In fact, it will likely have the opposite effect. Smokers don’t always use them to quit, but sometimes to simply escape the poisons in tobacco. These devices are inoffensive to others, and they are healthier for the user.

Permit me an anecdote about a family member, a long-time smoker from the ages of 15 to 45. He began using an e-cig, and was able to completely eliminate his tobacco usage, which led to an almost immediate improvement in his breathing and energy levels. Smokers are able to put down the tobacco in favor of the e-cig and soon begin to feel an improvement in their health. They can draw deeper breaths, they don’t become so easily winded. Their quality of life improves. Making e-cigs harder to obtain may derail people like my family member. The human inclination is to follow the path of least resistance — and for a great many people that will mean continuing to smoke tobacco.

Bureaucrats and Nanny-Statists don’t see the damage that they do. No doubt the legislators who ban or restrict electronic cigarettes will rest comfortably knowing they struck the right moral pose. And if the question is asked why they did not vociferously support a lower-risk alternative to smoking for their constituents, present and future?

Well, I don’t know if even Nanny Mike will be able to rescue them from that question.