September 26th, 2013
06:00 AM ET
Share this on: editor James Oliver Cury tackles controversial food-and-drink-themed etiquette issues.

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.

More from Details:
Can Smoking Pot Cause a Stroke?
Racy Wine Labels that Push the Envelope of Taste—and the Law
Prescription Foods: What to Eat to Cure Your Ills

No kidding! Children not welcome to dine here
Bring in the noise, bring in the food
5 reasons you (yes you) should embrace fine dining
7 deadly restaurant sins that keep customers from coming back

soundoff (859 Responses)
  1. Nunya

    So much lack of informing oneself went into this article... To mention just a couple...

    'Vapor' can smell just as much or more than 'smoke'. Saying that it won't smell because it's 'vapor' is just flat-out wrong. There is smell. Some people can smell it, some can't. Apparently the author is one of the lucky ones who can't.

    There is a clear implication by the author that the e-cigs contain no harmful substances. That is overstepping a bit. They may not have the previously identified harmful substances in traditional cigarettes, but they have more than pure nicotine, and some do contain some substances which have been shown to be harmful.

    So we push the reset button, and those of us who want to avoid such things are forced to start the same cycle that led to the current state of affairs of cigarettes and restaurants. There was a day when restaurants didn't bother even to have smoking and non-smoking sections, and the only recourse was to complain to management and choose not to patronize restaurants that allowed it. Just as then, that will be my recourse with e-cigs until they are banned the same as cigarettes.

    June 24, 2014 at 3:29 pm |
  2. SmokeNToke

    How dare anyone expose me to minute amounts of exhaled nicotine while I consume my sodium and fat-laden 3,900 calorie meal that has been washed down with six gin cocktails? The nerve of those selfish vapers!

    Oh, and stop calling it "vapor." Water vapor is invisible.

    December 20, 2013 at 2:49 pm |
    • Pipe Smoker

      Like clouds, yeah...

      February 20, 2014 at 3:25 am |
  3. nichitecigs

    The electronic cigarette is the safest and healthiest alternative that will help you get rid of the bad habit of smoking! You should make a thorough online research and see which the best electronic cigarette available is. The best thing you can do is to purchase a starter kit, because there you will have all the accessories that you need in order to enjoy your new healthy smoking habit.

    December 16, 2013 at 3:45 am |
  4. CLS

    People have a right to smoke and not smoke, why not create a space for both? Learn about both at

    December 3, 2013 at 2:02 am |
  5. nathan sturley

    I don't see the point in them. But honestly I am angry. 6 years ago I made a website selli8ng them and was number one on google all over the world for the keywords buy electronic cigarette and I guess I was into it too early and forgot about it. Noone seemed to know about them back then. I always keep my ear to the ground about new things coming up but now there are shops selling just them and people show me them. The affiliate I was with only paid 5% on sales so I just didn't bother with it. I moved into another new idea before anyone else realises that is youtube advertising money on music videos.

    November 12, 2013 at 1:31 am |
  6. Five eCigs

    try our $5 disposable eCigs at

    November 5, 2013 at 12:25 am |
  7. elektronik sigara

    electronic cigarette here to take advantage of the economic

    November 4, 2013 at 8:11 am |
1 2 3 4 5
| Part of

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 9,989 other followers