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Santa Monica Moves to Regulate E-Cigarettes

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By Daniel Larios
Staff Writer

June 26, 2014 – The City Council unanimously voted Tuesday to direct staff to craft an ordinance that would regulate electronic cigarettes, also known as e-cigarettes and vaping machines.

The proposed ordinance would prohibit their use in all locations where cigarette smoking is currently banned, and it would also require businesses that sell the devices to comply with the City’s Tobacco Retailer Licensing law.

The motion, made by Councilmember McKeown, also included amendments to the staff recommendations that would establish a grandfather clause for existing stores, allow vaping in stores that sell e-cigarettes with proper ventilation, place restrictions on the proximity to schools and request more information on the proliferation of e-cigarettes.

“This issue is a difficult issue as council probably recognizes,” said Deputy City Attorney Adam Radinsky, who presented the item to the Council.  “This is a lot more difficult of an issue than the council’s regulation of tobacco, which has occurred in the past 15 years or so.

“What staff has concluded is that council direct staff to prepare an ordinance for first reading that would treat e-cigarettes the same as regular cigarettes,” he said.

Before the vote, Council members addressed the reasons for the ordinance.

“I just want to clarify one thing,” said Councilmember Ted Winterer. “We’re not talking about banning e-cigarettes any more than we’ve talked about banning traditional cigarettes in the city.

“We’re just talking about appropriate places for their use and appropriate places where they are sold.”

Councilmember Bob Holbrook was the most vocal about his support for the regulation of e-cigarettes.

“My first experience with an e-cigarette was at a ball game and saw a youngster, young compared to me, smoking one and it looked like a whale blowing, because all of a sudden there was a plume of smoke blown and dissipated,” Holbrook said. 

“Eventually an officer came by and asked to see what he was smoking.  And it took the officer away from other problems and what officers do in a ball game.”

Twenty-seven members of the public testified during the public hearing, most of them firmly against the proposed ordinance.

One of them was Erin Belcher, a 12-year Santa Monica resident and 20-year smoker who said that switching to e-cigarettes had a positive impact on her health.

“In 2010, the City Council banned smoking in almost all outdoor areas. In 2012, the City Council banned smoking in apartments for new tenants. Now we’re talking about putting the same restrictions on e-cigarettes,” Belcher said.

“Does the City Council not have enough work to do?”

Dak Lesingane, an e-cigarette supporter, urged the council to table the item for 24 months. 

“Vaping is not smoking,” he said. “You would never limit someone using a cessation therapy, like nicotine gum, to use only in areas where people are allowed to smoke.”

While most of the comments were from opponents of the proposed measure, a few supporters also spoke.

“If you’re chewing nicotine gum, I don’t have to breathe secondhand nicotine vapors,” said Jerry Rubin. “That’s the difference.”

Esther Schiller, executive director of Smoke Free Air for Everyone, an anti-second hand smoke organization, said e-cigarettes are part of the tobacco industry.

“Major tobacco companies are now buying up electronic cigarette companies,” Schiller said. “E-cigarettes are being advertised in the same way that regular cigarettes were advertised in the 1940s.”

There are currently two licensed “vaping” establishments in Santa Monica.  There are no laws on the books banning the smoking of e-cigarettes in bars and restaurants due to the lack of federal rules and classification of the subject, according to Radinsky.

City staff will return with a draft of the proposed ordinance later this year.

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