The New York City Council approved two measures on December 19th directly impacting the locale’s restaurant industry. City lawmakers are looking to extend the 2002 smoking ban to include electronic cigarettes, and to also ban the use of plastic foam containers, such as the kind commonly used by restaurants for packaging take-out food.
Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who leaves office December 31st, is expected to sign both the e-cigarette bill and the Styrofoam bill.
The e-cigarettes ban, which will go into effect four months after the mayor signs it into law, prohibits the use of e-cigarettes in sites where smoking is already outlawed, including restaurants, bars, and city parks.
E-cigarettes, which do not contain tobacco, heat a nicotine solution that emits a puff of vapor. While touted as harmless by its manufacturers, there is sharp disagreement within public health circles on whether or not the electronic devices should be treated similarly to conventional cigarettes.
Several states, including New Jersey, Arkansas, Utah, and North Dakota, have already expanded their indoor-smoking bans to include e-cigarettes.
The initiative to ban Styrofoam containers, announced in the mayor’s “State of the City” address this past February, is not scheduled to go into effect until July 2015—if it happens at all. Dart Container Corporation, which manufactures the foam containers used by foodservice operations, lobbied city officials to try to prevent the ban from being implemented. The compromise reached gives Dart Container until January 1, 2015, to prove to city sanitation officials that Styrofoam can be recycled and sold economically. If it fails in this effort, the Styrofoam ban becomes law on July 1.
At a press conference prior to the vote, City Council representative Christine Quinn warned against the environmental hazards of the material, particularly its presence in landfills, saying the only things that last longer than the foam containers are cockroaches and the performer Cher.
There are more than three dozen cities that now ban Styrofoam food packaging, most of which are located in California. In addition to New York City, other cities considering bans include Boston and Philadelphia.
By Joann Whitcher