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Los Angeles approves sweeping e-cigarette restrictions

The Los Angeles City Council on Tuesday approved sweeping new regulations that would treat e-cigarettes like conventional cigarettes, after one of the most personal debates to be heard on the council floor in years.

On a 14-0 vote, lawmakers outlawed "vaping" -- the practice of inhaling the vapors produced by e-cigarettes -- in most work sites and many public places, including parks and certain beaches.

Lawmakers voted to continue allowing e-cigarette use in so-called vaping lounges, where patrons can try the various e-juices that are loaded into the battery-powered devices. And they narrowly defeated a push by the e-cigarette industry to let the practice continue in 21-and-over establishments, such as bars and nightclubs.

The debate saw lawmakers share their own experiences with tobacco and the hazards that come with it. Councilman Mitch O'Farrell, who pushed for the new restrictions, spoke of his unhappiness at breathing secondhand smoke during his days as a waiter in the early 1990s.

Councilman Joe Buscaino spoke of a relative's decision to turn to e-cigarettes after years of smoking. And Council President Herb Wesson, in the most passionate speech of the day, described his decades-long addiction to cigarettes, a habit he told his colleagues would almost certainly kill him one day.

Wesson said he began smoking because he wanted to be cool.

"When you’re 15, you want to be cool," he said. "And I will not support anything -- anything -- that might attract one new smoker."

The debate brought to light the strong views on each side of the e-cigarette debate. Backers of the battery-powered devices portray them as a godsend for those looking to quit conventional smoking. They also warned the research has not yet proven that second-hand emissions from e-cigarettes are harmful to others.

Buscaino introduced an amendment to allow bars and nightclubs to be removed from the new regulations. But his measure received only six votes -- two shy of the amount needed for passage.

E-cigarettes “are not tobacco,” he said. “And I don’t think they should be regulated exactly the same way.”

Foes of e-cigarettes said they threaten to make smoking socially acceptable after years of public opinion campaigns to discourage the habit. Young people who get hooked on the nicotine in e-cigarettes may then turn to tobacco use, said Jonathan Fielding, director of the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health.

"We don't want to risk e-cigarettes undermining a half-century of successful tobacco control," he said.

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david.zahniser@latimes.com

Twitter: @davidzahniser

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