La Cañada Flintridge could soon become the first California city to prohibit the possession of nicotine cartridges among minors, after the City Council showed support Monday for an ordinance designed to regulate the use and sale of electronic cigarettes.
Council members heard a presentation from Doug Williams, a La Cañada High School senior who helped create the ordinance during a summer internship through the city's chamber of commerce, on the potential health risks posed by aerosol emitted from e-cigarettes. Studies have shown such emissions contain carcinogens, ranging from benzene and formaldehyde to cadmium and lead.
Other dangers include inaccurate labeling of products' nicotine content, a lack of FDA regulation on the safety of the devices, their cartridges and the materials used to make them as well as accidental ingestion of e-liquid by children, Williams told the council.
To address those risks, the new ordinance prohibits the use of electronic cigarettes in enclosed places of employment, on public transportation and in all areas where tobacco smoking is currently forbidden. Exceptions include retail and wholesale tobacco shops and private e-cigarette lounges.
The new law also requires local businesses that sell the devices to obtain and display a tobacco retail license, and require proof of age for any customer who appears younger than 27.
Similar regulations have been drafted in 69 municipalities statewide, including the city of Los Angeles and Long Beach, Williams said, but when ordinance language was previously brought before La Cañada's Public Safety Commission, the panel wanted to take the restrictions a step further by banning possession of electronic cigarettes among minors.
The rate of e-cigarette use among young people has climbed in recent years, with 13.4% of high school students reporting use in 2014, compared to 4.5% the previous year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Although California law prohibits the sale of such devices and their contents to people under 18, there is no restriction on possession or use, Williams told the council Monday.
"Currently, in the state and in the city, minors can possess electronic cigarettes," Williams said, explaining the commission's recommendation. "They believe it would fall in line with the purpose of the report and it would also benefit the public's health."
City Manager Mark Alexander recommended the council pass the ordinance without the ban for minors, expressing a concern any local regulations would likely be preempted by future state laws and could potentially open the city up to legal challenges from the manufacturing industry and others looking to set a precedent.
"Rather than be out front of the issue, ahead of other cities in the state and the state itself, and potentially subject ourselves to scrutiny and, in particular, liability if those who disagree challenge that provision, we felt it safe just to hold back and let the state regulate," Alexander said. "It's not that the staff disagreed with the Public Safety Commission. It's just that we didn't think the time was right to do it with this ordinance."
Despite staff's reservations, Kay Linden, chair of the Public Safety Commission, asked the council to act on behalf of the safety and health of children.
"While we understand the state hasn't dealt with this, we feel strongly that we should," she said in a public comment. "This is dangerous for children, young adults or minors' health and we want to take a leadership position."
Council members agreed, ultimately asking that the ordinance prohibit minor possession, not of the devices themselves, but the nicotine cartridges used therein, inside city limits.
"I appreciate the staff's prudence, but I think that we can't legislate based on a fear of liability if we believe, in our heart of hearts, it's the right thing to do for our community," said Councilwoman Terry Walker.
The matter will return to the council for a vote, most likely at a Nov. 17 meeting, when ordinance language regarding minor possession has been drafted, according to Alexander.
Sara Cardine, firstname.lastname@example.org