Los Angeles Regulates E-Cigarette Sales, Considers Banning Use in Public

Los Angeles E-Cig Users Vaping at a Public Shop


Last week, while the city of New York debated adding e-cigarettes to the Clean Indoor Air Act, Los Angeles voted on a motion to draft an ordinance regulating usage of the devices wherever smoking is prohibited. While the NYC hearing was highly publicized in the days preceding the debate, news of Los Angeles' intentions didn't break until after a slew of people you'd only find in Hollywood spoke out against the cigarette alternatives. In fact, the council had already voted to regulate sales by forcing vendors to obtain tobacco licenses and banning sales to minors, which is already state law.


What Happened


While the NYC debate featured numerous panelists on both sides of the argument, the Los Angeles hearing was only attended by supporters of outlawing vaping in public places, outside of smoking sections. Something seemed really fishy in LA, especially considering some “supporters” didn't really knowing what they were commenting on.


One man did not appear to know what e-cigs were and wanted the council to ban cigarette and alcohol sales. Another encouraged children to pick up marijuana smoking when they turn 18 instead of e-cigarettes. And a third citizen was dressed in dark shades and leather gloves, a stark resemblance to Tony Montana's assassin in the movie Scarface. Do Los Angeles lawmakers really hire actors to speak on behalf of their public policy intentions?


LA City Council had two items concerning e-cigs on the docket. One placed a moratorium on the sale of e-cigarettes to minors as well as required e-cig vendors to obtain tobacco permits. It also prohibited e-cigarette sales from ice cream trucks and self-service kiosks. That ordinance was overwhelmingly passed by the council.


The other was a motion to propose an ordinance outlawing the use of electronic cigarettes in existing smoke-free areas. This was drafted by council members Mitch O'Farrell and Paul Koretz out of concern that e-cigarettes pose “potential dangers to users and non-users who passively inhale the vapors…” This argument is somewhat more reasonable than the one made in New York questioning the ability of business owners to differentiate between e-cig vapor and cigarette smoke. The motion was referred by a vote of 15-0 to the Arts, Parks, Health, Aging, and River Committee.


Jumping the Gun


Still, Koertz and O'Farrell may be jumping the gun here. While studies have indeed found the vapor from electronic cigarettes may contain trace amounts of volatile organic compounds and TSNAs, levels detected were far below occupational safety limits.


One study even concluded that the air in large cities could be more unhealthy than that of a room in which someone is using an electronic cigarette. Los Angeles is the second largest city in the country and has been long known for its smog. It's safe to say that, per the study, just breathing outdoor air downwind from the city center is probably more dangerous than breathing in second-hand electronic cigarette vapor.


There is insubstantial evidence to suggest e-cigarettes are bad for public health. Yes, they may be attractive to middle and high school-aged kids. But so is alcohol, hookah and cigars, artery clogging junk food, and even worse, drugs like heroin, ecstasy and methamphetamine. Those last three are really what our city leaders should be worried about. There is still no evidence that electronic cigarettes are roping young people into tobacco smoking.


Opposition to Tobacco-Like Regulation


One other big US city has already tried to relegate vapers to smoking sections and failed.  Earlier this week a proposed public usage ban by Chicago mayor Rahm Emanuel faced strong opposition from both the community and aldermen. In a rarity, Chicago aldermen were using the lack of evidence argument in support of e-cigarettes with Ald. Joe Moreno arguing that there is “no evidence that nicotine being vaporized is damaging” to bystanders.


In New York last week, over 60 vapers and e-cigarette experts and supporters convened at the city council chamber to contend that vaping is not the same as smoking. There are definitely some major differences between the two that should be taken into account when attempting to regulate the electronic devices like paper cigarettes.


Chicago aldermen also touched on a point I discussed last Friday: that regulating e-cigarette use like smoking will only discourage smokers from switching. There is no doubt that e-cigarettes are not only safer than tobacco smoke, but most likely not a threat to bystanders. Lumping vapers in with smokers will only reduce the efficacy of electronic cigarettes as harm-reduction alternatives to smoking tobacco.


Think about it. Would it do someone with an overeating disorder any good to be forced to eat a healthy lunch at McDonald's every day? Forcing e-cigarette users into smoking sections would be almost as bad for public health as requiring Alcoholics Anonymous meetings to be only held at bars during business hours. And on that note, if you want to ban vaping wherever smoking is prohibited to prevent it from “renormalizing smoking for our nation's youth”, well then you might as well ban drinking alcohol in all public places where children may be present.


New York is scheduled to vote on adding e-cigarettes to the Clean Indoor Air Act on December 19th. Los Angeles has only just announced its intentions on restricting e-cig use, leaving potential proposals up to the Arts, Parks, Health, Aging, and River Committee. While we wait on that decision, you better bet that with the booming vaping population the area has, there is bound to be an equal, if not greater opposition to what NYC saw last week at the next LA hearing.


Photo credit: Lawrence K/Los Angeles Times


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