L.A. County expands smoking ban to vaping tobacco and smoking pot in public

Marc Bury, visiting from Germany, vapes at the Venice Boardwalk.
Marc Bury, visiting from Germany, vapes at the Venice Boardwalk.
(Al Seib / Los Angeles Times)

It’s about to get harder to find a place to vape and smoke cannabis in Los Angeles County.

The Board of Supervisors updated the county’s legal definition of “smoke” and “smoking” on Tuesday, expanding an existing ban on using tobacco products at beaches, parks and government buildings to include electronic cigarettes and pot.

The supervisors also clamped down with new restrictions on smoking at beach parking lots, bus stops, outdoor bars and some common areas of county-owned golf courses in unincorporated areas — home to more than 1 million people.


The new rules on public consumption come as a breath of fresh air to health advocates and others turned off by second-hand smoke. They also are among the county’s first major policy changes on cannabis since California voters legalized the drug for adult use in 2016.

“By closing loopholes of smoke-free zones … L.A. County residents are better able to enjoy cleaner, healthier air,” Supervisor Hilda Solis said in a written statement. “No one should have to worry about the harmful effects of second-hand smoke while walking to school or work, or enjoying a meal in a restaurant.”

The updated rules were designed to clarify the county’s longstanding ban on smoking tobacco in restaurants and workplaces, which had left room to be interpreted as not covering e-cigarettes or cannabis, even though the latter is already prohibited by state law.

The ordinance now spells out that smoking pot and vaping all substances, including liquid nicotine, aren’t allowed on the 25 miles of beaches owned and operated by the county, or in the parking lots of those recreation areas in Malibu, Venice and Marina del Rey, among others.

“It does bother me, of course, especially when we’re trying to do something healthy and work out,” Alex Padilla of Torrance said Saturday, after a volleyball match with friends on at Marina Beach in Marina del Rey, a pocket of the county inside the city of Los Angeles between Venice and Westchester. “It’s definitely a health concern.”

With such residents in mind, beach advocates also welcomed the move, saying an explicit ban by the county would help curb second-hand smoke — and also potentially reduce plastic waste from cannabis packaging and the electronic-cigarette cartridges used for vaping.


“It is a pretty big policy update,” said Talia Walsh, a spokeswoman for Heal the Bay, a nonprofit organization and water quality watchdog. “We’ve definitely seen them at every single beach cleanup we do,” she said of the packaging and cartridges.

In addition to beaches, the updated ordinance extends the county’s smoking ban to all indoor and outdoor areas of public healthcare facilities, including hospitals. Exceptions include designated smoking areas at county recuperative and mental health facilities.

It also removes designated smoking areas from movie theaters and other indoor meeting spaces, and prohibits the use of cannabis and tobacco within 40 feet of food trucks and within 25 feet of outdoor bars.

Those who violate the updated ordinance cannot be ticketed, however. The rules are intended primarily as a deterrent, but frequent violators, including companies with employees or customers who smoke in prohibited areas, could be subject to civil action by the county, officials say.

The vote on Tuesday brings the county in line with the city of Los Angeles, which, five years ago, extended its own smoking ban to vaping. On Wednesday, a City Council committee is expected to go a step further, considering a motion to reduce access to flavored tobacco products by young people and to study how other municipalities are dealing with the issue.

On cannabis, the city points to state law as proof that the drug is already illegal to smoke, eat or vape in public places, and within 1,000 feet of a school, day-care center or youth center while children are present. It is also unlawful to smoke cannabis in places where it is illegal to smoke tobacco within the city of Los Angeles.

While it’s true that Proposition 64 barred public consumption of cannabis, county officials said they wanted to update the ordinance to make it clear that using cannabis is illegal in places where tobacco smoking has been prohibited.

“No doubt future entrepreneurs will invent new ways to smoke and, rather than specifically update our ordinances each time, we have written this ordinance so that the rules protecting public health should not need updating again,” said Supervisor Sheila Kuehl, who championed the policy changes.

Public health advocates praised the changes, saying the normalization of cannabis smoking in public has been among the unintended consequences of the 2016 ballot measure.

“Sure enough, people are smoking cannabis everywhere,” said Albert Melena, who runs the San Fernando Valley Partnership, a community organization that promotes healthy living.

Melena has been a vocal advocate for strengthening the county’s smoking rules, speaking before the board last fall when the supervisors instructed county lawyers to write the updated ordinance passed Tuesday.

“We really need to start addressing this issue of public cannabis. Now that the county has done this, I do hope that other municipalities follow them,” he said. “It’s legal, but let’s minimize the harms on people who don’t smoke.”

Josh Drayton, a spokesman for the California Cannabis Industry Association, said the county’s updated ordinance is a “fairly standard” step that his group doesn’t oppose.

He raised some concerns, however, about how the ordinance might confuse residents. Some people live in apartment buildings where smoking is banned, and the new restrictions could make it harder for them to exercise their right to use cannabis.

“They have to be considering safe access and safe consumption for their constituents,” he said.