A Los Angeles City Council panel on Monday endorsed an array of restrictions on e-cigarettes that would prohibit the vapor-emitting devices from being used in most workplaces and a number of public spaces.
The proposed ordinance, now heading to the full City Council, would treat e-cigarettes like conventional cigarettes, outlawing their use in parks, on city beaches, in restaurant outdoor dining areas and at city-sponsored farmers markets.
Lawmakers acted after Jonathan Fielding, director of the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health, said e-cigarettes threaten to make smoking socially acceptable after years of advocacy to discourage the habit. Young people who get hooked on the nicotine in e-cigarettes may then turn to tobacco use, he said.
"We don't want to risk e-cigarettes undermining a half century of successful tobacco control," he said.
The full council is expected to vote on the ordinance next week. The committee carved out one exception to its proposed workplace ban on e-cigarettes, allowing them at "vaping lounges," businesses that allow customers to try various e-cigarette liquids. Those liquids, which typically include nicotine and flavorings, are heated in an e-cigarette until they vaporize and can be inhaled.
Councilman Mitch O'Farrell, who proposed the exemption, said it is similar to a measure that allows customers to light up at cigar lounges, even though smoking is banned in workplaces.
The proposed restrictions were backed by anti-smoking advocates, including the American Lung Assn. and Americans for Nonsmokers' Rights. Opponents included bar owners, e-cigarette makers and business leaders, who argued that there is insufficient research to justify the ordinance.
"You should have the facts straight and the science right before you regulate" e-cigarette use," said Ruben Gonzalez, a vice president of the Los Angeles Area Chamber of Commerce.
Monday's vote came as a larger debate plays out over e-cigarettes and whether they are a gateway to tobacco products or a means to escape their addictive hold.
Sellers of e-cigarettes said the ordinance would set back efforts of some smokers to kick the tobacco habit. "If we make it difficult for them to get this product, they're just going to go to the local 7-Eleven and buy a pack of cigarettes," said Elaine Ruggieri, co-owner of Natural Vapes in West Los Angeles.
Backers of new restrictions in Los Angeles pointed to a study by the Centers for Disease Control, which found e-cigarette use rising among middle and high school students. Fielding, the county health officer, said some e-cigarette flavors are especially appealing to children, such as chocolate or gummy bear.
City Atty. Mike Feuer pointed to studies that found e-cigarette vapor included heavy metals and volatile compounds such as formaldehyde. And he sided with those who fear e-cigarettes will make smoking more socially acceptable.
"Even if it were determined later on that the emissions from e-cigarettes aren't dangerous to a bystander in an outside environment, the existence of devices like this … in public places does threaten to renormalize the behavior of smoking," he said.