imgresAfter investing a lot of time and energy into fighting against big tobacco during his time as mayor, Mike Bloomberg must be fuming over the latest health reports. In 2010, only 14 percent of New York residents were smokers, but the latest data shows that number is now up to 16.1 percent. So what has caused the sudden spike in tobacco use for the Big Apple? It could be directly related to ecig bans that were implemented earlier this year.

In April, New York adopted an amendment to the Smoke-Free Air Act of 2002 to include electronic cigarettes in all public smoking bans. Once vaping was prohibited indoors and in all public venues, former smokers lost some motivation to stick with ecigs and it appears that some may be turning back to cigarettes. If they are forced to vape in the cold, why not just smoke a cigarette? While that is a terrible choice for health, it’s an unfortunate decision that many are making. This is a disaster for public health and it’s a lesson that other cities need to take seriously as they determine how to handle vaping.

Of course, New York’s health officials refuse to acknowledge the ecig bans are contributing to the problem. Instead, they blame cuts to the anti-smoking programs and advertising campaigns. They also blame outdated methodologies that do little to deter today’s casual young adult smokers. “I think you are seeing a really different smoking population, and that means we need to talk to them,” said deputy city health commissioner Christine Johnson Curtis.

In response to the now rising smoking rates, New York officials plan to launch new anti-tobacco campaigns that will target young adults with a message about the dangers of even “light” smoking. Will this really be effective?

Perhaps a better strategy would be to stop treating electronic cigarettes as the enemy. They offer a feasible alternative for smokers that are willing to forego tobacco if ecigs are permissible. When cigarettes are outlawed in bars, why not allow ecigs instead? This will encourage smokers to go tobacco free by vaping so they can continue to get a quick nicotine fix without going outdoors. There is now adequate research to prove that secondhand vapor is harmless. With no real risk involved, it is ludicrous to continue banning vaping in public places.

Will we start to see smoking rates increase in other cities that have banned public vaping?