Imagine you're at Carbone, one of the country's best Italian-American restaurants. Your evening's going pretty well. Then the wait captain, in full red tuxedo regalia, starts shaving white truffles, one of the world's most expensive luxuries, over your sheep's milk agnolotti. Now your evening's going very well. You inhale the ethereal perfume. And then you cough.
That's because your date, who just got back from a cigarette break, reeks of a $13 pack of Marlboro Reds.
If I had a dollar for every time something like that happened to me while dining out, I'd actually be able to afford Carbone's truffled pasta — it's $120. Then again, I'd easily pay three times as much for it never to happen again. There are few things gastronomically worse than a dining companion who smells like one of the chimney sweepers from Mary Poppins.
Now ideally, for fine dining enthusiasts like myself, people wouldn't smoke, at least not during dinner. But such is life, which is why we're fortunate to have a fine alternative to the combustible cigarette. That alternative is called the e-cigarette.
The battery powered tubes let users inhale (or "vape") nicotine-spiked steam instead of tobacco-laced smoke. The devices don't produce ash and they don't stink; I've had friends exhale the popular NJOY and Blu brands around me and neither emit a scent that is even faintly noticeable from more than a few inches away.
E-cigarettes are about as disruptive to your sense of smell as half a squirt of cologne on your suit seven days after the squirt. You'll gripe about the vapor as much as you'll gripe about the mist rising off a pot of boiling water. Perhaps that's why many restaurants permit their use. Well, permitted.
Michael Bloomberg, the former mayor of New York and the majority owner of Bloomberg News parent Bloomberg LP, the company that employed me as food critic for the better part of a decade, signed a law on his next to last day in office prohibiting the use of e-cigarettes in bars, clubs, restaurants, and other public places.
That means no more vaping-while-dining, bro-man. The law takes effect at the end of April, 11 years after New York passed the original tobacco ban, a piece of legislation that immediately improved the quality of life of anyone working in the restaurant industry.
E-cigarettes are about as disruptive to your sense of smell as a half-squirt of cologne on your suit seven days after the squirt.As a former waiter, there were few things I despised more than cleaning out the ashtrays of diners while they ate good food.
E-cigarettes, fortunately, require no ashtrays, nor do they contain any tobacco. Still, Boston, New Jersey, and Utah already already have prohibitions on public vaping, while Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Chicago have recently approved bans of their own. That's too bad, because e-cigarettes have the potential to make dining rooms more civilized places to spend an evening.
I don't make that claim as doctor. I'm not equipped to give health advice, nor do I have any addictive experience in the matter. I've never taken a puff of a cigarette, e-cigarette, water pipe, or joint in my 35 years on this earth — though my father, a prostate cancer-survivor, has been smoking a pack a day for over 40 years and every time I hear him cough, wheeze, or gasp, I wish more than anything that he'd quit. That's another story.
For now, I claim that e-cigarettes could make restaurants more enjoyable as someone who, like many other young professionals, spends the bulk of any given night in a restaurant. I'm convinced that in the long run we'll be less likely to pass through plumes of secondhand smoke outside establishments that permit indoor vaping.
E-cigarettes have the potential to make dining rooms more civilized places to spend an evening.I hope, in the end, we'll be smarter than to send e-smokers outside with the rest of the American Spirit riffraff, where they'll soak up the flavor of dirty soot and bring back the stink into the dining room.
Making e-smoking as socially unacceptable as real smoking is a pretty terrible incentive to get my father or anyone else to switch to the lesser of two evils.
The irony is amusing. As community boards rail against crowds loitering outside clubs and other late-night hot spots, New York, with its e-cigarette ban, has created yet another reason for crowds to loiter outside clubs and late-night hot spots. And still, I have yet to hear any real complaints from my waiter colleagues or fellow eaters about e-cigarettes in restaurants (feel free to chime in if I've overlooked you).
Justin Warner, chef at Do or Dine in Bedford Stuyvesant, told me during an interview last year for Bloomberg Businessweek that he's "happy" to have e-cigarettes in the dining room. "Nothing is worse than our kitchen having to hold/replate/refire an order because a guest decided to step out for a puff between courses." Actually, I'll tell you what's worse: Sitting alone at a restaurant while your friends step outside to light up.
I'm always the non-smoker left behind to keep guard over everyone's pocketbooks, an involuntary shift in the field of coat checkery. And inevitably, a team of waiters ferrying over our food will see there's no one else but me at the table.
New York's e-cigarette ban has created yet another reason for crowds to loiter outside clubs and late-night hot spots.So they'll ferry that food back to the kitchen, where it will die a slow death under the heat lamps. That never happens when I dine with e-smokers.
Of course, we need further studies to determine whether the cherry-scented water vapor emitted from e-cigarettes is really harmful.
But in the meantime, here's a short list of other things in restaurants that we know are harmful but aren't yet banned: Sizzling-hot fajita skillets. Noise. High heels on slippery hardwood floors. Knives. That thing when Koreatown waiters almost hit your face with white hot buckets of charcoal. Sharp toothpicks that hold together pastrami sandwiches. My buddy Sarah after three martinis. Her husband Mark after two chardonnays. Vegan food. Chopsticks, if used as a replacement for Q-tips. And porterhouse steak bones, if filed down and used as javelin spears.
So until we prohibit all those other things, I'm going to go ahead and say maybe, just maybe, it wouldn't be the worst thing for New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, and other cities to think twice about their bans on e-cigarettes. We'll all eat better and smell better as a result.
· All E-Cigarette Coverage on Eater [~ENA~]