Los Angeles lawmakers extended the city’s smoking restrictions to include electronic cigarettes (also called e-cigarettes and vape pens). The L.A. City Council voted 14-0 Tuesday on sweeping regulation that bans the use of e-cigarettes in worksites and public places. The measure now goes to Mayor Eric Garcetti for signature. If signed, the restrictions will take effect 30 days later.
The city council action banned the use of e-cigarettes from essentially the same places as tobacco products, which the exception of vaping lounges, the hangouts where users gather to inhale the e-cigarette vapors (i.e. vaping) and try different flavors. This exception is similar to those made for hookah and cigar lounges under traditional anti-smoking rules. E-cigarettes will also be permitted when appropriate for theatrical purposes. The e-cigarette industry tried to get the city to allow them in bars and nightclubs, but failed.
Extremely popular, e-cigarettes resemble a long cigarette. When the user inhales, the airflow triggers a heater or atomizer, which then vaporizes the liquid nicotine and propylene glycol (PEG), the stuff used to create fake smoke in theaters, in the refillable cartridge. The user inhales a puff that feels like smoking tobacco and exhales a cloud of PEG vapors that resembles smoke. The devices, which sell for $100 on up, have no tobacco in them. However, since they are relatively new, long-term health effects are unknown.
The LA City council chambers debate on implementing any e-cigarette bans was heated. Several lawmakers shared personal experiences with smoking, and showed the strong views being espoused in the e-cigarette debate. So far, there is no definitive proof either way if e-cigarettes lead to smoking or discourage it. However, lawmakers like Council President Herb Wesson, a long-time smoker, were adamant that they did not want to support anything that might attract one new smoker.
One large independent maker of electronic cigarettes, NJOY, pointed out that the council decision was made in the absence of credible science. However, the company felt the measure passed was more reasonable than the original proposal, which did not include exceptions for lounges or filming.
There are no national regulations on electronic cigarettes, which were only invented 10 years ago. As a result, use by teens in many areas is skyrocketing, having doubled from 2011 to 2012. At the federal level, the Food and Drug Administration has proposed bringing them under its jurisdiction, just like tobacco products. Right now, e-cigarettes are sold without a licenses in a variety of retail locations. Twenty-five percent of sales are reportedly online. In addition, since there is no “smoke” or tobacco, e-cigarettes are currently allowed to advertise on television, which NJOY did during the Super Bowl.
States and cities are taking action on their own. Chicago and New York have already restricted their use. Utah has pending legislation to require stores that sell e-cigarettes to be licenses and restrict sales to people age 19 and over.
The e-cigarette debate promises to heat up as more cities and states consider legislation and, eventually, the federal government takes action. The debate in the LA City Council yesterday showed the strong feelings both ways on e-cigarette bans, which shows just how popular their use has become.
By Dyanne Weiss