The use of e-cigarettes -- often called “vaping” -- would be banned at bars, nightclubs, restaurants and some other public areas under an ordinance approved by a Los Angeles City Council committee today.
The Arts, Parks, Health, Aging and River Committee unanimously advanced an ordinance that prohibits e-cigarette smoking at farmers markets, parks, recreational areas, beaches, indoor workplaces such as bars and nightclubs, outdoor dining areas and other places where tobacco smoking is restricted.
E-cigarettes, battery-powered devices that enable users to inhale a nicotine-laced vapor, have been marketed as smoking-cessation aids, but some city and public health officials say not enough is known about the effects of chemicals contained in the liquids.
The regulation, which now goes to a vote by the full 15-member City Council, was approved despite protests from more than a dozen e-cigarette users, e-cigarette retailers and vapor bar owners.
Representatives of the county Department of Public Health, the Los Angeles Unified School District, the American Lung Association and Americans for Nonsmokers' Rights spoke in support of restricting e-cigarettes.
The committee approved an amendment by its chair, Councilman Mitch O'Farrell, to exempt vaping lounges from the ban. Those would be similar to exceptions made for cigar and hookah lounges.
O'Farrell's amendment also calls for an exemption for film production sets where e-cigarette use would be allowed for “theatrical purposes.”
Councilman Joe Buscaino said while he greatly dislikes tobacco smoking, he does not think e-cigarettes should be regulated in the same way as tobacco smoking, adding that he is looking forward “to continuing this dialogue.”
“It is one thing to seek moral conformity, but another to identify harmful effects that would justify a uniform ban similar to tobacco products,” he said. “Without conclusive evidence that second-hand vapor from e-cigarettes is harmful, I don't believe we should be in such a hurry to put so many restrictions on where adults can use a legal product.”
Councilman Curren Price said supported the amendment, saying it would be “sensitive to the business community.”
Supporters of the regulation said studies have indicated that chemicals considered harmful by the Food and Drug Administration, such as nickel, lead and chromium, have been detected in e-cigarettes.
The FDA, which has yet to complete its own comprehensive study of e-cigarettes despite promising one since 2009, has yet to deem e-cigarettes a proven smoking cessation tool, officials said.
O'Farrell said “limiting their use in public indoor and outdoor areas ... just makes common sense,” given the incomplete information available about the chemicals used in e-cigarettes.
The committee's recommendation came after a series of presentations from officials who warned of the dangers of e-cigarette use and its potential for making smoking seem glamorous or normal again after years of anti-tobacco smoking campaigns.
“Los Angeles is making a critical decision on the health of its residents,” Dr. Jonathan Fielding, the county's public health director, told the committee.
“Until more evidence is available on the safety of e-cigarette use, on its impact on inducing teens to begin smoking and on the potential harm to those who may inhale the second hand vapor from e-cigarettes, the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health believes the best approach is a precautionary one,” he said.
The proliferation of e-cigarette use could reverse years of tobacco control and prevention efforts that have resulted in dramatic declines in smoking rates in Los Angeles County, he said.
Officials worried that e-cigarettes would lead to a “re-normalization” of smoking, especially among young people, officials said.
“Peer pressure remains a very, very serious issues amongst our youth,” said Steve Zimmer, a member of the LAUSD board. “I'm very, very concerned e-cigarettes are participating in a re-hipsterization of tobacco.”
Officials said studies indicated e-cigarette use doubled among middle and high school students over a one-year period.
Others were skeptical about the claims made by city and county officials.
Ruben Gonzalez of the Los Angeles Area Chamber of Commerce said the “jury's still out” on the dangers of e-cigarettes, and it would be irresponsible to move forward with the proposed regulation.
“We should only be making those decisions when we have the facts and evidence in place,” he said. “I would argue that here, you don't have that. Just because you assert something doesn't make it true.”--City News Service