Narrower ban focused on flavored vaping products moves forward after City Council vote

A proposed ban on flavored tobacco will have to wait a few more weeks after the City Council made some last minute tweaks to an ordinance that could have broad impacts on smoke shops and consumers in the city.

What was originally scheduled to be a ban on all flavored tobacco products was scaled back and refined to only apply to flavored vaping products as well as candy-, fruit- or menthol-flavored cigarettes. The changes carved out hookah and cigar lounges as well as pipe tobacco and chewing tobacco.

The changes were requested by Councilwoman Suzie Price who had brought the original discussion to the City Council in early October after a number of highly publicized national cases of smokers being severely injured after using vaping products with 39 deaths recorded.

“I brought this item as an urgency item to get the discussion going,” Price said. “The goal of this item was to act immediately to stop any additional incentive or access for youth to vaping products.”

Because of the changes made Tuesday night the ordinance will require another first reading before the council can take its two procedural votes prior to the mayor signing it into law. The ban would last for one year but would give retailers up to 180 days to clear their shelves of any banned products.

On Friday, federal health officials announced that it had detected vitamin E acetate in the lung fluids of 29 people who had fallen ill after vaping, however the announcement did not rule out other factors that had led to more than 2,000 people nationwide becoming sick. The findings were outlined in a report published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

While the acetate was found in both nicotine and cannabis-styled vaping oils authorities reported that a higher percentage of illegally sold THC-containing products had large concentrations of the acetate that they believe could be contributing to scores of health issues. However, those were predominantly found to be those sold on the black market where vitamin E acetate is used as a cutting agent the report said.

City Council favors ban on flavored tobacco, flavored vaping products

Councilwoman Stacy Mungo asked the council to consider folding cannabis vaping products into the temporary ban as well but the amendment was not accepted by the body.

Once the ban becomes effective in the city retailers found to be not complying with the ban could face severe consequences including the revocation of licenses and permits to operate as a tobacco retailer and fines of $1,000 and up to six months in jail for individuals found to be violating the ban on sales of the prohibited items.

There are 13 vape-only stores in the city but nearly 500 other stores that are licensed to sell tobacco and vape products. While a number of industry representatives showed up to speak against the ban, after Price’s amendments their comments were largely supportive of the exemptions from the temporary ban.

Some proponents of the ban asked the City Council to be stronger in the wording of the ordinance in making it a permanent ban and to have it apply to all tobacco products.

William Baldyga, who was representing the Coalition for a Smoke Free Long Beach, said that vaping is a misleading alternative for people looking to quit smoking and that he would be OK if consumers were pushed into markets outside the city to buy vaping prodcuts.

“That’s great, let them go elsewhere,” Baldyga said. “The incidents of vaping among high school students will go down as we push these products out of Long Beach, which is the only way we can protect our youth.”

The ordinance is expected to come back to the City Council in the coming weeks but the turnaround time could be relatively quick due to the fact that an ordinance had already been written by the city attorney’s office and now just needs to be updated with the requested changes.

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Jason Ruiz covers City Hall and politics for the Long Beach Post.
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