The Los Angeles City Council voted on Tuesday to ban the use of electronic cigarettes in workplaces and public areas, placing "vaping" into the same category as tobacco smoking.
The council voted 14-0 to restrict e-cigarette smoking where tobacco use is restricted, including restaurants, parks, bars, nightclubs, beaches and workplaces. E-cigarette lounges are exempted.
"We have an obligation to protect the workforce from the effects of secondhand aerosol exhaled by people who choose to 'vape' on e-cigarettes," said council member Mitch O'Farrell, who co-sponsored the proposal.
A spokeswoman for Mayor Eric Garcetti confirmed to Reuters that he would sign the measure into law in the coming days.
This will place Los Angeles in the company of New York, Boston and Chicago, among other U.S. cities that have restricted e-cigarettes, which are battery-powered cartridges filled with liquid nicotine that creates an inhalable vapor when heated. It is this vapor that gave rise to the term “vaping.”
The Los Angeles ban differs from restrictions in other major cities in that it was amended to allow vaping in lounges and e-cigarette stores and for filming or theatrical purposes.
Makers of e-cigarettes opposed the ban. At stake is the future of an industry that some analysts believe will eventually overtake the $80 billion-a-year tobacco business.
The makers pitch their product as a safer alternative to smoking traditional cigarettes and say there is no evidence that second-hand vape smoke is harmful. However, studies have shown that despite their lack of tobacco, e-cigarettes contain some of the same toxic compounds like acetaldehyde and formaldehyde (PDF), the latter of which is known to be carcinogenic.
Advocates of e-cigarettes also say their product helps people kick the smoking habit, and Los Angeles Councilman Joe Buscaino said a relative who was a longtime smoker turned to e-cigarettes. However, his amendment to exempt bars and nightclubs — typically adults-only venues — from the restrictions fell short of passage.
After the vote, the largest independent maker of e-cigarettes, NJOY said in a written statement that the company “remains concerned, however, that banning e-cigarette use in public places could deter current tobacco smokers from using the products and thus disserves public health."
Public health experts say e-cigarettes could be a gateway into smoking for young people. Council President Herb Wesson said he began smoking cigarettes when he was a teenager. "When you're 15, you want to be cool," he said. "And I will not support anything — anything — that might attract one new smoker."
"We don't want to risk e-cigarettes undermining a half-century of successful tobacco control," Jonathan Fielding, director of the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health, told the council before the vote.
The City Council action comes as the U.S. government is contemplating further regulations at the national level.
The Food and Drug Administration has already proposed a rule that would bring e-cigarettes under its jurisdiction and could potentially require companies to register and pay fees, list the ingredients in their products, obtain approval for new products and restrict online sales and marketing to children.
A law passed in 2009 gave the FDA the authority to regulate cigarettes, smokeless tobacco and roll-your-own tobacco. It also gave the agency the power to deem other tobacco products to be within its jurisdiction, but it must first issue a rule to that effect.
E-cigarette companies believe they should be exempt from the full spectrum of regulations, saying that would stifle innovation, damage small business and hurt consumers trying to quit smoking.
Al Jazeera and wire services.