The Los Angeles City Council moved Wednesday to prevent the sale of electronic cigarettes to minors by expanding the city's tobacco- vending laws to include the battery-powered smoking alternatives.
The council voted 15-0 to approve an ordinance that requires vendors to sell "emergent tobacco products" such as e-cigarettes, which allow users to inhale nicotine-laced liquids as vapor, as well as hookah pens and dissolvable products such as lollipops and lozenges, in the same way they sell tobacco products. The ordinance must be signed by the mayor before it can go into effect.
Retailers must obtain a city permit to sell tobacco products and are restricted from selling such products on the street and from mobile vending sources such as ice cream trucks and food carts where they are more accessible to young people. If the ordinance is signed by the mayor, those rules would also apply to e-cigarettes
Self-service displays of e-cigarettes will also no longer be allowed as vendors must be present to verify the age of the purchaser.
Since they were introduced into the United States market in 2007, the use of e-cigarettes has picked up in popularity among youth, with the number of high school students who said they use the products doubling from 4.7 percent to 10 percent between 2011 and 2012, city officials said.
"Until we can establish that e-cigarettes are safe, we should err on the side of caution, and they should be regulated in Los Angeles as we regulate tobacco," City Attorney Mike Feuer said prior to the council vote.
Council members said tobacco companies are looking to e-cigarettes as a way to attract young people and to cultivate future consumers of their traditional cigarettes. Councilman Paul Koretz, who proposed the original motion to ban the sale of e-cigarettes to minors, called the products a "gateway to tobacco and absolutely the wrong way to go," adding that both his parents died from tobacco-related illnesses -- when he was 19 and 23 years old.
Councilman Mitch O'Farrell, holding up an e-cigarette he said was confiscated from a ninth grader at Hollywood High School, said the bubble gum, pina colada and similar flavoring in e-cigarettes are a "very sinister approach to a very sinister product," noting such flavorings are no longer allowed in traditional tobacco products because they attract youthful consumers.
O'Farrell, who seconded Koretz's motion, noted that e-cigarettes can also be used to smoke marijuana.
Los Angeles County Department of Public Health Director Jonathan Fielding called e-cigarettes a "serious health risk" and said 26 chemicals found in e-cigarette liquids are on the FDA's established list of harmful or potentially harmful substances.
Studies on the benefits of e-cigarettes, which have been marketed as a way to wean smokers off tobacco products, are "somewhat inconclusive," he added. O'Farrell and Koretz, citing potential harm from the second-hand vapors from e-cigarettes, also proposed the restriction of e-cigarettes in places where tobacco smoking is also restricted, such as restaurants, public parks, playgrounds, beaches, schools, daycare centers and libraries.
More than 40 cities across California have taken similar steps and are instituting laws regulating outdoor use of e-cigarettes, city officials said. The county's public health department has also recommended that cities include e-cigarettes in local smoke-free policies to reduce second-hand exposure to e- cigarette vapors.
"We know that the vapor from nicotine is toxic," O'Farrell said. "We have an obligation as a community to look out for the health and well-being of students and those around them."
O'Farrell said he and his siblings suffer from illnesses stemming from second-hand tobacco smoke they were exposed to while growing up in a house in which smoking was a habit among his parents and grandparents, who eventually died from smoking-related illnesses.
In addition to nicotine, e-cigarette devices also contain benzene and toulene, which are volatile organic compounds; tobacco-related carcinogens; heavy metals such as nickel and arsenic; formaldehyde and acrolein, according to city officials.
City Councilman Bernard Parks, who seconded the motion, said more still needs to be done "in continuing the city's efforts to reduce access to secondhand smoke and access to cigarettes and e-cigarettes close to schools."