Long Beach approved strict rules on the use of electronic cigarettes in public spaces late Tuesday, tougher regulations than were adopted hours earlier by the Los Angeles City Council.
The restrictions, adopted on a 9-0 vote, mean Los Angeles County’s two largest cities will treat e-cigarettes in much the same way as regular cigarettes, banning their use in restaurants, bars, workplaces, city parks and beaches.
In Long Beach, e-cigarettes will now be classified as tobacco products, banning their sale to minors under the age of 18 and subjecting vendors to inspections and potential sting operations by the city’s health department.
Critics of the devices, which deliver nicotine and sometimes flavors via a vapor that users inhale, say they target young people and could be a gateway to increased smoking among youth.
Others, however, argue that e-cigarettes have helped people quit smoking and are a safer alternative to regular cigarettes.
For Councilman Robert Garcia, who voted against the regulations previously but changed his mind Tuesday night, the possible benefits to hard-core smokers are not enough to outweigh the possible downsides.
“My father was a smoker for many many years, and I know it’s very difficult,” Garcia said.
“What we’re hearing from a lot of people in the medical community, as well as those who are studying the issue, is that there are a lot of unknowns. It makes sense for us to err on the side of public health.”
Electronic-cigarette shops have been vocal during the city’s debate, with one vendor going so far as to step up to the dais and take a drag on an e-cigarette while speaking to the city council.
But despite strong opposition from vaping vendors, an amendment that would have allowed customers of the shops to “sample” the products inside was voted down.
The city’s regulations go even further than those passed in Los Angeles, since they do not allow exemptions for “vaping lounges.”
They do, however, allow the use of e-cigarettes in existing cigar and smoking lounges; currently, only eight such lounges are allowed to operate in the city, and must abide by strict ventilation and other requirements.
Designated outdoor areas at bars and restaurants where smoking is already allowed will also be open to vaping.
Fines range from $100 for first-time violators to $500, and businesses found selling to minors could have their business licenses suspended or revoked.
“We’ve got to keep up with the times,” said John Edmond, chief of staff to the ordinance’s sponsor, Councilman Dee Andrews. “These devices are prolific…and the jury’s still out on the actual health consequences to folks.”