CITY HALL — City Council voted unanimously Tuesday to move in the direction of regulating electronic cigarettes within the city.
The proposed regulations, which will come before council for final approval later this year, would treat the vaporizers in nearly the same way City Hall treats traditional tobacco cigarettes, banning them from bars, restaurants, parks, the Third Street Promenade, and other areas.
The battery-powered e-cigs, which deliver a form of nicotine and can mimic the feel of traditional cigarettes, are being marketed as a healthier, less difficult way to kick the tobacco habit.
City officials, using an American Heart Association meta-study that combined the results from 84 peer-reviewed papers, looked at the impacts of e-cigs and found the data to be inconclusive.“There is not conclusive evidence that electronic cigarettes are an effective device for quitting smoking though their are certainly examples,” said City Attorney Adam Radinsky.
Still, Radinsky continued, there are advantages to the vaporizers.
“There are a lot of unanswered questions about safety,” he said. “The one thing that does seem clear, that all parties can agree on: Electronic cigarettes are safer than cigarettes by a long-shot both for the user and others in the vicinity.”
During the public portion of the meeting several residents told stories of quitting cigarettes by using e-cigarettes. More than a dozen residents opposed the regulations.
Other residents questioned their safety and supported the regulations.
Councilmember Ted Winterer noted that e-cigarettes create confusion for officers tasked with enforcing the smoking regulations. Several of the council members and city officials noted that it can be hard for enforcement officers to tell the difference between the vaporizers and a traditional cigarette.
“We’re not precluding anyone from their right to use e-cigarettes,” Winterer said. “We’re just putting restrictions on how they can be used.”
Councilmember Bob Holbrook was perhaps the most vehement about the regulations. The first time he saw a vaporizer, it was being used by a young man at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. Holbrook compared the vapors coming from the man’s mouth to the spray coming from the blow-hole of a whale.
A police officer had to approach the man to check out what he was puffing on, Holbrook said.
“He just took that officer out of his service trying to prevent problems and watching for people smuggling in liquor,” Holbrook said.
He also claimed that the e-cigarettes, which can be advertised more freely than traditional cigarettes, are aimed at children.
“Why are there these little kid flavors?” he asked. “I haven’t been into bubble gum since I was 12 years old. I haven’t had cotton candy since I was probably 12 or 13 years old. I don’t understand why you would make solutions like that if they weren’t for kids. Maybe there’s an adult here or there or somewhere in the world who thinks bubble gum is great.”
He was more ambivalent about the second-hand inhalation of the vapors.
“I was little annoyed to that I was getting some of the vapor but we’re all breathing each other’s air while we’re sitting here,” he said. “That’s one thing, but to breath each other’s vapor, I don’t know.”
Councilmember Kevin McKeown, who expressed hesitation about regulation when Holbrook introduced the idea earlier this year, supported the direction.
“If we were to say, ‘OK you can not vape in our parks, like you can now not smoke,’ it wouldn’t keep you from making that choice to vape; the healthier choice,” he said. “It would mean you couldn’t do it in public places where people would be affected or feel affected.”
McKeown asked city officials to deviate from City Hall’s smoking ban in one instance when applying it to vaporizers. Vapor lounges, he said, could be considered exempt from the ban in certain cases so that patrons can sample flavors.
Holbrook voiced opposition to the exception but it received general support from the council.
City officials will craft a specific ordinance and bring it back to council for approval later this year.