Burbank City Council members said last week they want more information about potentially banning the use of e-cigarettes in public places and common areas, like with traditional tobacco products, and regulating the sale of the battery-powered nicotine vaporizers.
During a City Council meeting, Vice Mayor Jess Talamantes said that he had requested the initial information and discussion about the possibility of regulating the devices.
"My main focus was health reasons — health and trying to prohibit the sale to minors," Talamantes said, calling the devices, which atomize solutions that may contain nicotine and other potentially toxic chemicals into steam, "a major public health concern."
The devices are not currently regulated the same as tobacco products are under federal or state law, according to a city staff report. However, while there is no federal regulation banning the sale of e-cigarettes to minors, the state banned their sale to people under 18 years old in 2011.
Council members said they wanted more information on what local governments had done to regulate the devices, as more than 120 municipalities in California have chosen to do. City staff had presented other options for council members to consider, including no regulation or a "wait-and-see" approach that would depend on future federal or state legislation.
"Local governments that regulate e-cigarettes say they do so to protect smoke-free air, reduce public confusion, discourage smoking and simplify enforcement," Carol-Ann Coates, the city's building administration manager, told council members.
Officials discussed the possibility incorporating e-cigarettes under existing ordinances governing tobacco sales and smoking in public, in part to clarify the city's enforcement policies and to eliminate confusion about their use.
Under existing city code, retailers selling traditional tobacco products, nicotine products or smoking paraphernalia must get a tobacco retailer license from the city. Enforcement of the licensing program involves Burbank police sending decoys who are underage into licensed retailers to attempt to buy tobacco products.
However, a retailer that exclusively sells e-cigarettes cannot be licensed under the city's tobacco sales ordinance as it is, because e-cigarettes do not qualify for state tobacco retailer's licenses. That means they are not subject to the same enforcement activities as tobacco retailers.
The existing Secondhand Smoke Control Ordinance prohibits smoking in city parks and facilities, outdoor public areas, sidewalks in downtown Burbank and within 20 feet of entrances, exits and open windows of buildings open to the public.
It also bans smoking in certain areas of multifamily buildings: indoor common areas, private patios and balconies, swimming areas when children are present and within 5 feet of entrances, exits, walkways and hallways.
City Atty. Amy Albano noted some of the differences between the devices and tobacco products — e-cigarettes do not produce smoke, and there is a lack of conclusive evidence about the health effects of using them — but she said that does not mean the council lacks the ability to regulate them.
"I just wouldn't call it secondhand smoke," she said.
Chad Garland, firstname.lastname@example.org