On June 1, the Los Angeles City Council voted to ban flavored vapes and tobacco products in a 12-0 decision. The ordinance now moves to the desk of Mayor Eric Garcetti, who’s expected to sign it. The law, which prohibits the sale of non-tobacco flavored vaping products, flavored cigars and menthol cigarettes, would go into effect in January 2023.
The ban, pushed by the Michael Bloomberg-funded Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids (CTFK) and justified as a means to protect youth from nicotine dependence, has been dragged out for years—with lawmakers stopping and starting, revising and revisiting the proposal. There had been repeated calls from social- and criminal-justice activists to leave out menthol cigarettes and vaping products—the former because of fears of increased criminalization of Black communities, the latter because smokers use them as a far safer substitute for cigarettes—but City Council members did not relent.
Evidence has shown that cigarette sales increase in jurisdictions that enact vape bans.
“We just took a huge step forward against Big Tobacco’s deadly agenda in Los Angeles.”
Councilmember Mitch O’Farrell, who introduced the legislation, tweeted after the vote: “We just took a huge step forward against Big Tobacco’s deadly agenda in Los Angeles. This morning, I led the City Council’s unanimous approval of a prohibition on the sale of flavored tobacco to everyone 21 and younger in LA, making us the largest city in California and the nation to take this kind of action against these products.” Despite his description, the ban applies to people of any age—not just “21 and younger.”
As Stefan Didak, a California-based vape advocate, told Filter, the ordinance also applies to zero-nicotine vapor products. This means, basically, that retailers looking to sell zero-nicotine e-liquid with nicotine-only “shots”—a potential workaround to allow consumers to buy flavored e-liquid and add the nicotine themselves at home—will not be able to do so.
The legislation does, though, exempt the sale of hookah. “Normally proponents and supporters of flavor bans will object heavily to … exemptions for hookah tobacco and lounges,” Didak said. “More often than not, an attempt at passing a ban fails because they withdraw their support.”
“However, several of the major groups—including Annie Tegen, the vice president of state advocacy for CTFK—praised the council ahead of their vote on the amendments and congratulated them on doing the right thing,” he continued. “Not a single word of dismay about the exemption for hookah lounges. I thought that was very much out of character.”
Hookah lounge owners and retailers had protested that the ban would eliminate a cultural tradition. It might also be that CTFK saw Los Angeles as such a prized city for a ban, that it was more willing than usual to make this concession, especially after a years-long stall.
“This November, residents of California will vote in a referendum to reject or allow a planned statewide ban.”
As the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) soon intends the prohibit the sale of menthol cigarettes and sorts through a bevy of pending marketing applications for e-cigarettes, effectively deciding which vaping products will be legal in the US, many state and local lawmakers continue to mull flavor bans. Though the result is typically similar to that in Los Angeles, there has been some recent optimism among harm reductionists and consumer advocates: Last month, in Colorado, a Senate committee shot down a flavor ban in part because the state would have lost substantial tax revenue, which would be used to fund universal preschool.
Meanwhile, this November, residents of California will vote in a referendum to reject or allow a planned statewide ban on flavored vapes and tobacco.
Photograph by Slices of Light via Flickr/Creative Commons 2.0