Debate over new e-cigarette restrictions gets personal at L.A. City Hall

Frustrated by the lack of federal data on electronic cigarettes, the debate among Los Angeles City Council members Tuesday over whether to restrict their use quickly turned personal.

Members of the council -- which ultimately voted to treat e-cigarettes just the same as regular cigarettes, banning their use in parks, restaurants and most workplaces -- recounted their own experiences and struggles with smoking, adding to a passionate debate at the hearing.

Councilman Mitch O’Farrell, who pushed for the new restrictions, recalled his days breathing secondhand smoke as a waiter in a downtown restaurant. Martinez, who sided with O’Farrell, described her husband’s unsuccessful battle to quit smoking.

Councilman Joe Buscaino led an unsuccessful attempt to exempt bars and nightclubs from the ban, a measure sought by lobbyists for the e-cigarette industry. He too invoked a family member while making his arguments.


E-cigarettes “are not tobacco,” he said. “I don’t think they should be regulated exactly the same way. And I’ve heard from so many people, including my cousin Anthony, that they’ve stopped smoking from the help of e-cigarettes.”

Buscaino’s bid to allow the devices in 21-and-older establishments was supported by five other council members: Bob Blumenfield, Mitchell Englander, Felipe Fuentes, Curren Price and Paul Krekorian.

But Council President Herb Wesson balked at the exemption, telling lawmakers that he has been hooked on cigarettes for nearly 40 years — and will probably die because of them.

Calling himself “the council’s No. 1 smoker,” Wesson said he took up the habit as a 20-year-old factory worker because he wanted to be “cool.”

“I’m telling you, the high percentage of kids that smoke, smoke because it’s cool. And when you’re 15 you want to be cool,” he said. “I will not support anything — anything — that might attract one new smoker.”

Critics warn that the electronic devices, which produce a nicotine-laced vapor inhaled by users, could pave the way for a resurgence in tobacco use among young adults.

But the long-term health effect of vapor on those who are in close proximity to e-cigarette users remains unclear. And the lack of federal data on the question has given ammunition to supporters of e-cigarettes who assert that the council is acting prematurely.

Los Angeles’ decision means that within weeks, e-cigarettes users will have to camp out with smokers relegated to sidewalks outside their jobs and smoking porches at bars and nightclubs. The devices will be permitted in vaping lounges, where customers can sample flavored e-cigarette liquids. But they will be outlawed in outdoor dining areas of restaurants and at city-sponsored farmers’ markets.


Five states and the District of Columbia have already included e-cigarettes in anti-smoking bans or moved to restrict where they can be used. Last year, New York City passed an ordinance applying traditional anti-smoking rules to e-cigarettes and Chicago recently moved to prohibit vaping in bars, restaurants and most indoor public places.