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Smokers group challenges NYC e-cigarette ban

An e-cigarette sits in a tray on the bar at the Henley Vaporium in New York City December 18, 2013. REUTERS/Mike Segar
An e-cigarette sits in a tray on the bar at the Henley Vaporium in New York City December 18, 2013. REUTERS/Mike Segar

NEW YORK (Reuters) - A smokers' rights group filed a legal challenge on Tuesday to New York City's ban on electronic cigarettes in restaurants, parks and many other public places.

The city has increasingly restricted places where regular cigarettes can be smoked over the last decade under the Smoke-Free Air Act. Last year, the city council expanded those laws to include e-cigarettes, a measure that took effect in December.

The group behind the lawsuit, New York City Citizens Lobbying Against Smoker Harassment, said the new legislation was in breach of the "one-subject rule" in both the state constitution and the city charter.

The stated purpose of the Smoke-Free Air Act is to reduce New Yorkers' exposure to other people's cigarette smoke, the lawsuit says.

Because e-cigarettes do not contain tobacco and do not produce smoke, they cannot be included in the Smoke-Free Air Act without breaking the one-subject rule, the lawsuit said. The group has asked the state Supreme Court to void the law.

"E-Cig regulation is, even in the Council's words, at best, tangentially related to the subject of smoking, in much the same way that toy water guns are at best tangentially related to authentic firearms," the lawsuit said.

The City Council said it believed the court would uphold the law.

"Our legislation ensures the goals of the Smoke-Free Air Act are not undermined and protects the public against these unregulated substances," council spokeswoman Robin Levine said in an email.

E-cigarettes use heat to vaporize a flavored solution of liquid nicotine and other chemicals that the user can inhale. Their health impact is fiercely debated.

A study published last year in medical journal Lancet said e-cigarettes were about as effective as nicotine patches in helping smokers quit the habit.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has said the risks, if any, of e-cigarettes remain unknown. It said it would soon propose new regulations governing their use.

The bill was one of the last signed into law by Michael Bloomberg, whose final term as mayor ended in December. Earlier in 2013, Bloomberg also signed a law raising the minimum age for buying cigarettes to 21.

Traditional tobacco companies, including Lorillard Inc, Altria Group Inc and Reynolds American Inc, have all gotten into the e-cigarette business.

Shares of the three companies were up less than 1 percent in afternoon trading.

(Reporting by Jonathan Allen; Editing by Scott Malone and Lisa Von Ahn)

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