LOS ANGELES – The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors voted unanimously Tuesday to adopt an ordinance banning flavored tobacco products, including menthol, and to call on Gov. Gavin Newsom to pass a statewide ban on vaping.
The board had originally held the item for discussion, but ultimately approved it without comment from any of the supervisors as the meeting ran long.
The board’s vote to ban flavored tobacco came out of a request last year by Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas to better regulate tobacco shops.
“The growing popularity of e-cigarettes and vaping puts the health and well-being of our communities, particularly our youth, at risk,” Ridley-Thomas said following last week’s initial vote to introduce the ordinance. “This is not an assault on businesses but a thoughtful and balanced approach to legislation.”
The ordinance, which will take effect in 30 days, will also require new business licenses for tobacco shops. Tobacco retailers will have 180 days after it takes effect to obtain licenses and to clear their shelves of flavored tobacco products.
The county acted in spite of protests last week by dozens of tobacco business owners and advocates who support vaping and e-cigarettes as aids to quitting smoking.
Online sales will not be prohibited and users will not be punished under the ordinance, according to county lawyers.
Department of Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer told the board last week that flavored tobacco products “are driving the current vaping epidemic among youth” and encouraging experimentation that can lead to lifelong addiction.
“Evidence is mounting that vaping can severely impact lung function,” Ferrer said, pointing to nine recent vaping deaths nationwide — including one in Los Angeles County — and decisions by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and surgeon general to declare youth use an epidemic.
One pod of a popular vaping product has as much nicotine as a entire pack of regular cigarettes and nicotine can affect brain development up until the age of 25, according to Ferrer.
But dozens of vaping advocates said flavored products had helped them quit pack-a-day smoking habits and improved their health.
Business owners said they had no interest in selling to kids and pointed out that minors are violating the law when they use e-cigarettes and vaping products, but Ferrer said a compliance check showed that one in four shops inspected sold to underage customers.
The ordinance requires a new county business license for tobacco and e-cigarette retailers with an initial fee of $778 and an additional $142 fee every two years after that. Businesses will also be required to maintain a tobacco retail license — expanded to apply to stores that only sell electronic cigarettes or vaping products — that costs $235 per year.
Separately, Supervisors Hilda Solis and Supervisor Sheila Kuehl recommended sending a letter to the governor urging him to ban all vaping products until investigations into vaping-related hospitalizations and deaths could be completed. California’s Department of Public Health issued a health advisory last week urging everyone to refrain from vaping until those investigations can be resolved.
Solis issued a statement after the vote thanking Newsom for allocating $20 million to a vaping awareness campaign and directing state agencies to come up with recommendations to limit the sale of vaping products to anyone under 21.
“As the number of vaping-related deaths and hospitalizations climb, and as more states have taken steps to protect youth from the harmful effects of vaping products, we need to support our state leaders and ask them to step in to protect the public,” Solis said.
To date, some 102 Californians with a history of vaping have been hospitalized for severe breathing problems and lung damage, according to the state DPH. Two of those people have died, including one in Los Angeles County.
Though a specific cause has not yet been identified, the state agency warned that anyone inhaling a foreign substance puts themselves at risk and that vaping may lead to serious illness and death.
“Vaping is not just a concern for youth; the vaping cases under investigation affect youth and adults alike,” Acting State Public Health Officer Dr. Charity Dean said in a statement last week.
Officials are urging anyone with difficulty breathing after vaping to contact a doctor immediately. They also asked affected users not to discard used vaping cartridges, to allow state labs to analyze the remaining substance.