By Tiffany L. Rider - Assistant Editor
December 17, 2013 – Long Beach is among several major cities across the United States – including New York and Chicago – exploring bans on the use of electronic cigarettes in public spaces where tobacco use is prohibited.
The Long Beach City Council voted December 3 on an item requesting the city attorney draft an ordinance to include e-cigarettes and nicotine vapor devices in the municipal code’s definition of tobacco products, require e-cigarette businesses retain a tobacco retailer’s permit and ban the devices in designated “No Smoking” areas.
E-cigarettes are devices designed with small batteries that use just enough power to heat up a concoction of nicotine, propylene glycol, vegetable glycerin and natural and artificial flavoring known as e-liquid. When puffed, the device produces vapor that, when exhaled, looks similar to cigarette smoke.
Sixth District Councilmember Dee Andrews brought the item before the council, and his chief of staff, John Edmond, spoke about why e-cigarette restrictions are needed.
“For people who are no longer smoking cigarettes and are now participating in e-cigarettes, if there is a health benefit that is something we don’t want to prohibit,” Edmond told the council. “We’re not banning them. We’re not asking for them not to be sold in our city. What we’re saying is that we want to have a standard we already enjoy with current tobacco users in use of public spaces as well as how they are readily available for sale – that [retailers] would have to get a license with a health permit.”
Though one member of the public testified with a request to have the council rest on the issue for 90 days to six months until the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) determined how the federal government would regulate e-cigarettes, the item was approved with an amendment requested by 5th District Councilmember Gerrie Schipske to have the city attorney draft how to further regulate and “rein in the proliferation” of e-cigarette businesses using existing zoning laws.
The popularity of e-cigarettes has exploded in recent years, with the number of independent e-cigarette retailers on the rise. Gas stations and 7-Eleven stores also sell the devices. The e-cigarette market is currently valued at an estimated $2 billion worldwide, and that number is expected to more than double as major tobacco companies buy into the business in the coming years.
A doctor seeking a smoking alternative for heavy cigarette smokers invented the e-cigarette in China in 2006. Proponents of e-cigarettes describe the devices as similar to personal inhalers, which are marketed as a way for people to kick their traditional cigarette habits.
A major difference between conventional cigarettes and e-cigarettes is that the vapor from e-cigarettes does not include the tar and chemicals found in traditional cigarette smoke.
“The verdict is still out on the effects of the ingredients in the vapor,” Dr. Mitchell Kushner, the city’s health officer, told the city council. “What has definitely been mentioned is that these are nicotine delivery devices. Nicotine is a drug that leads to heart disease and many other conditions.”
While others in the medical industry argue that the tar and other chemicals in traditional cigarette smoke is what causes cancer, more definitive research is underway to determine the toxicity of e-cigarettes. The FDA and the National Institutes of Health recently issued grants to higher education institutions to conduct such research on the impact of e-cigarette vapor. One grantee is the University of Maryland, which received $19 million to provide scientific evidence as a baseline for the FDA to use in regulating e-cigarettes.
No FDA regulations of e-cigarettes currently exist, although the administration is expected to release an expanded definition of tobacco products this month – a potential precursor to new federal rules. North Dakota and New Jersey have outright banned the use of e-cigarettes. In California, cities that have e-cigarette bans on the books include Campbell, Eureka, Fairfax, Mill Valley, Morgan Hill, Mountain View, Petaluma, Sebastopol, Tiburon and Union City. The entire county of Santa Clara also has a ban in place.
At the council meeting, Kushner also expressed his concerns about marketing e-cigarettes to youth. According to research from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, e-cigarette use among middle and high school students more than doubled from 2011 to 2012. Moreover, one in five middle schoolers surveyed by the CDC indicated they have used e-cigarettes, but also said they have never tried traditional cigarettes.
Under Health and Safety Code Section 119405, California prohibits the sale of e-cigarettes to minors. According to Long Beach Police Department Spokesperson Marlene Arrona, the department has no recorded citations, going back at least two years, for businesses selling e-cigarettes to minors.
The three e-cigarette shops the Business Journal interviewed indicated they regularly request customer I.D. Adam Angelito is the store manager of Vapor Craze, a business that started online in 2010 selling e-cigarettes and a variety of e-liquids before opening a Long Beach storefront in October 2012.
“We have been enforcing that from day one,” Angelito said. “We are not selling to children.” According to Angelito, more than 100 e-cigarette shops have opened in the South Bay alone. He advocates for e-cigarette users to have more etiquette when it comes to smoking in public places like restaurants. “I actually still go outside of a restaurant or public place to use my e-cig,” he said. “That’s because I still have that smoker’s etiquette to do so.”
Vapor Craze advertises e-cigarette “vape” devices as an alternative to smoking rather than a way to help people quit smoking, Angelito said. “On the other hand, ‘vaping’ has kept a large amount of our customers from smoking cigarettes and quitting altogether.”
Dominic Sanzone, owner of Kiss My Vape, told the Business Journal that e-cigarettes are more akin to personal inhalers than to traditional cigarettes. “There’s been a lot of misunderstanding and uneducated research being done,” he said. “Since the FDA hasn’t come out either way on the issue, we feel the city council is jumping the gun. I think they need to do a little more research and wait until the FDA rules on it.”
Alan Schroeder, partner and owner of Vapin USA in Downtown Long Beach, said he thinks the proposed regulations on e-cigarette businesses like his are more political than health-related.
“If it passes and businesses are required to have [tobacco] permits, it will take a lot longer for a business to open,” Schroeder said. “Then [e-cigarettes are] also taxed like tobacco, so the city can make money on that, too. It’s mainly political and not accurate as to why they are placing rules on e-cigarettes. I wish we had a bigger lobby to help the business. I don’t think they should be equated to tobacco.”
Consumer Advocates for Smoke-Free Alternatives Association Spokesperson Elaine Keller agreed. “If they put limitations on businesses that specialize in e-cigarettes, they are protecting the major cigarette companies selling e-cigarette look-alikes in every convenience store and gas station,” she told the Business Journal. These look-alikes are disposable and do not have a refillable e-liquid chamber like those sold at “vape” shops.
The Long Beach Area Chamber of Commerce has yet to take a position on the issue. Randy Gordon, president of the chamber, said the item would likely be taken up at the board’s February meeting. “It is an issue we’ve heard about and haven’t yet studied.”