The City Crackdown on E-Cigarettes Continues in Los Angeles

Cities aren’t waiting for the Food and Drug Administration to decide how strongly to regulate e-cigarettes.

As early as next week Los Angeles could be the third major U.S. city to restrict vaping in a host of public spaces, making e-cigs just as inconvenient as regular ones. New York City approved a similar change in December, and Chicago followed suit in January.

A Los Angeles city council committee approved a draft ordinance (PDF) on Monday that broadens the definition of “smoking” in existing city codes to include e-cigarettes, a move that would automatically prohibit use anywhere regular smoking is banned. That covers nearly every form of public space, including bars, restaurants, workplaces, farmers’ markets, beaches, parks, and city golf courses. As the Los Angeles Times notes, the proposed ordinance would create an exception for “vaping lounges,” where customers go specifically to try out different e-smoking tobacco and devices.

The Los Angeles city attorney’s office says more than 40 cities and counties in the state have made similar changes to include e-smoking in their bans. City-level bans were very effective in reducing the smoking of regular cigarettes, when local legislation covering secondhand smoke rippled up to the states. Smoking became socially isolating, reserved largely for private homes.

As Megan McArdle wrote in a recent cover story for Bloomberg Businessweek, federal regulation is on the horizon, too, as the FDA decides if e-cigs are a safer alternative to regular smokes or an unhealthy gateway that will create more smokers. In the lengthy preamble to the Los Angeles ordinance, lawmakers make clear where they fall on that debate: E-cig vapors “have not been scientifically proven as safe,” they write, and public consumption could “reverse the progress that has been made in establishing the social norm that smoking is not permissible.”

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