The City of Signal Hill is planning to follow suit with nearby Long Beach by proposing to regulate electronic cigarettes the same as tobacco products and, effectively, continuing to outlaw so-called “vaping” lounges within city limits.
The Signal Hill City Council voted unanimously (5-0) during its meeting on Tuesday, July 15 to have city staff draft an ordinance amendment that would put e-cigarettes, which are battery-operated devices that convert nicotine or non-nicotine liquid into vapor, in the same category as tobacco products within the City’s municipal code.
Currently, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the State of California have yet to pass any regulations on e-cigarettes, though they are considering them. Additionally, public-health agencies are still researching the health effects of the devices.
But, as the popularity of e-cigarettes has increased, several local cities have chosen to pass regulations within zoning codes, restricting the sale and public consumption of e-cigarettes the same as those for tobacco products. Cities are taking this precaution primarily as a way to prohibit sales to minors and prevent secondary e-cigarette-vapor exposure in public places, though harmful health effects, if any, have yet to be identified.
Signal Hill Mayor Ed Wilson, who declared he doesn’t smoke, said his main concern with e-cigarettes is the potential for use among underage children, particularly since there are currently no federal age restrictions.
“The increase in kids doing it has been astronomical,” he said. “And the problem is we don’t know if nicotine is in [the liquid]… and nicotine is addicting. Every time I see someone who has one, they can never ever put it down. And they hold it. They walk around with it. It’s in their hand all day long.”
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has reported that the percentage of high-school students who have used e-cigarettes more than doubled between 2011 and 2012, according to a city staff report.
Staff notes that, according to the CDC report, the accessibility and design of the products has likely “contributed to the increase” since “youth marketing of the products often includes colorful and sweet-tasting products.”
In addition, staff notes that the popularity of e-cigarettes may be attributed to the fact that there is no tax on the products. E-cigarettes are also promoted as smoking-cessation devices, but staff notes that the FDA has yet to officially approve the products as such.
Colleen Doan, Signal Hill’s associate planner, said the City has received several requests to establish e-cigarette-related businesses, including vaping lounges, in the past year. However, Signal Hill’s code prohibits e-cigarette retail shops of any kind since such businesses are not listed in the code and are, therefore, prohibited “by default,” she said.
Doan said the City’s legal counsel advised staff to treat e-cigarettes in the City’s zoning code the same as tobacco products. This means that the City intends to ban vaping in the workplace and in public places, prohibit e-cigarette sales to minors and continue to “prevent” the establishment of vaping and smoking lounges, according to a city staff report. Under the code amendment, convenience stores, such as 7-Eleven, would also be prohibited from selling packaged e-cigarette products to minors.
Staff states that the City of Los Angeles passed an ordinance that allows vaping lounges while the City of Long Beach, on the other hand, passed a more stringent law that prohibits vaping lounges entirely and only allows retail sales of the product.
While there currently isn’t any conclusive research on whether consumption and/or secondary exposure to e-cigarettes is harmful, there are still concerns about the potential health effects, city staff adds.
The California State Department of Environmental and Occupational Health, the County of Los Angeles Public Health Department, the American Lung Association and the American Cancer Society have all expressed concerns about nicotine and byproducts contained in e-cigarette devices, according to city staff.
“There is no conclusive research at this time that there are any potential harmful effects, and it may be that there are not, but, right now, it’s unknown,” said Doan, who added that different vaping liquids contain “unknown chemicals and ingredients.”
Councilmember Michael Noll, who admitted that a close friend of his uses e-cigarettes, said the best solution for the City would be to treat e-cigarettes the same as tobacco.
“If we do have to do something, we should regulate it like cigarettes,” he said.
Doan noted that the Council may want to consider adding a clause in the ordinance amendment, clarifying that landlords and homeowners associations would have a right to ban the use of e-cigarettes on their properties. Such is the case alread for tobacco products.
City Manager Ken Farfsing said the Council might also want to consider changing the City’s own workplace policy, prohibiting city employees from vaping on the job, adding that new technologies, such as texting, often become a distraction.
“I don’t think you want people vaping in the middle of a Council meeting,” he said.
The owners of two e-cigarette shops in Long Beach were unable to be reached for comment before the Signal Tribune’s deadline.
In related news, the Council agreed unanimously to not consider a citywide ordinance to ban smoking at multi-residential properties. The agenda item comes after the president of the Northview Homeowners Association submitted a request.
The request asked for the City to adopt a citywide ordinance to ban smoking and secondhand smoke in certain areas of multi-residential properties. However, the Council agreed that such an ordinance would be too restrictive on multi-residential property owners, adding that homeowners associations already have the individual right to pass laws banning smoking within their properties.
Other Council highlights
Presentations Mayor Wilson and the Council presented certificates and proclamations to Emerson Fersch, who resigned from his position as city treasurer last month after serving the City for 11 years. Fersch, who was lauded for developing the City’s investment policy, is moving to Orange County. Meanwhile, a presentation to recognize Sara Pol-Lim, executive director of the United Cambodian Community, was postponed.
Animal-care services The Council voted unanimously to extend the City’s contract with the Long Beach Animal Care Services Bureau, which provides animal care and control services for Signal Hill, for the next two years. The first year of the contract extension is expected to cost $71,289, however a projected $20,000 in revenue from dog licenses is expected to help offset the contract amount, according to a staff report. During the Council meeting, Ted Stevens, manager of the Long Beach Animal Care Services Bureau, gave a presentation on the city department’s statistics and activities.
Solid-waste collection The Council received and filed a report on the City’s waste-and-recycling services contractor, EDCO, that is planning to increase its solid-waste collection refuse rates for residential, multi-family and commercial accounts. The rate adjustments are subject to a Proposition 218 “protest” public hearing, which is scheduled for Sept. 2.
City clerk, treasurer interviews An agenda item to interview candidates for city clerk and city treasurer was postponed because of a conflict of schedules among the candidates. The Council is scheduled to appoint a new city clerk at its meeting on July 29 and appoint a new city treasurer at its meeting on Aug. 19. ß