Council’s Proposal to Include E-Cigarettes in Tobacco Ordinance Has Store Owners Fuming

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An E-Cig City employee demonstrates an e-cigarette’s vapor, which dissipates within a few seconds. Photos by Sarah Bennett

Tonight, Long Beach City Council will vote to approve the inclusion of electronic cigarettes in the City’s tobacco laws, but it’s not the idea of regulation that has Long Beach’s e-cigarette shop owners fuming.  

If it were up to them, e-cigarette users would only be able to use their devices inside if a business allowed it, the composition of the liquid used—called “nicotine juice”—would be subject to governmental oversight and e-cigarettes themselves would have to pass strict quality control.

But the council has approached regulation of the popular products differently, unanimously voting at its December 3 meeting to amend the Long Beach municipal code to include e-cigarettes and vapor devices in the definition of tobacco products, which would prohibit their use in no smoking areas.

The amended ordinance is written to treat “an electronic and/or battery-operated device, the use of which may resemble smoking, which can be used to deliver an inhaled dose of nicotine or other substances” the same as traditional tobacco-burning cigarettes, an idea that many Long Beach e-cigarette store owners disagree with.

“E-cigarettes are a completely different product and should be given the attention any other new product is deserving of,” said James Demetra, who owns Vapes of Wrath, an e-cigarette shop in East Long Beach. “To just lump them in with combustible cigarettes and other tobacco products is lazy policy making.”

Most shop owners that sell e-cigarettes share the sentiment, recognizing the need for regulation, but disapproving of how that regulation is being pursued.

“The electronic cigarette industry is a little bit of the Wild West with no regulation,” said Bill Blowitz, who own Smokeless Success on East Anaheim St. Blowitz said that in the 15 months since Smokeless Success has opened, his business has boomed, growth he attributes to e-cigarettes gaining traction as an alternative to tobacco-burning cigarettes.

ecig1“There’s a general consensus that it should be regulated,” Blowitz said. “What we have a problem with is trying to lump it in with traditional burning-tobacco-leaves cigarettes.”

The criticisms of the City’s decision stems from numerous angles, from the alleged ignoring of information that shows e-cigarette vapor to be relatively harmless to the belief that business owners should be allowed to decide for themselves if customers are allowed to vape inside their businesses.

Long Beach City officials claim there is little scientific proof that vapor from e-cigarettes is a safe alternative to conventional cigarettes, and in a presentation prior to the December vote, cited a report from Chicago City Health Commissioner Dr. Bechara Choucair which shows that the so-called “water vapor” from e-cigarettes contain nitrosamines, metals like nickel and arsenic, carbon compounds such as acrolein and formaldehyde, and volatile organic compounds such benzene and toluene.

“These are nicotine delivery devices and nicotine is a drug that leads to heart disease and other conditions,” Long Beach’s Health Officer, Dr. Mitchell Kushner, said. “Nicotine is one of the most addictive substances known—this is the major issue as we continue to study the chemicals that could be present in the vapor.”

John Edmond, Chief of Staff for 6th District Councilmember Dee Andrews, also noted that the attorney generals in 40 states have requested that FDA increase their oversight over the e-cigarettes market.

“The advertising of e-cigarettes as ‘green and healthy’ could lure adolescents,” Edmond said. “In addition, it permits users to skirt smoke-free laws we enjoy such as those inside movie theaters, restaurants, and other public spaces.”

Mike Shaknovich, owner of E-Cig City in Downtown Long Beach, insists there is a lack of evidence to support the City Council’s move. He believes that the City has not been presented all the facts.

Shaknovich points to Dr. Michael Siegel, a professor at the Boston University School of Public Health, who says that e-cigarettes pose little to no health risk to users or those around them and another study by Igor Burstyn, a professor at the School of Public Health at Drexel University, who analyzed the chemistry of nicotine-liquids users and found no major health concerns.

“I believe that there should be control and it should be taxed, but they’re starting at the wrong point [by lumping it in with tobacco products],” Shaknovich said.

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Mike Shaknovich (plaid shirt) vapes inside his Downtown Long Beach e-cigarette store. 

No matter what the city decides on, Shankovich says the e-cigarettes industry will continue to grow.

“My business is going to boom [either way]. If people who use e-cigarettes are forced to be in the same areas as smokers, they are going to educate smokers about e-cigarettes and their benefits,” he said. “This is not a trend. Its technology and technology changes the future.”

But Demetra said the opposite is also true, and that the proposed regulations could hurt the chances of smokers quitting traditional cigarettes.

ecig2“Not only are policy makers forcing addicts back into the den of their addiction, they are also forcing vapers to be subject to second hand smoke” he said. “It would be like forcing alcoholics to have AA meetings in a bar surrounded by temptation.”

Many business owners might also rather allow e-cigarette use inside, Shaknovich suggested, because it would keep patrons in longer and could translate into increased revenues. He suggested that bars, restaurants and other businesses should be allowed to offer e-cigarette sections, much like hotels have smoking and non-smoking rooms.

Further complicating the issue is the sale of nicotine-free e-cigarette liquids—liquid that looks and smells the same as the nicotine juice, but contains none of the addictive substance. Demetra said that all flavors in his shop are sold in nicotine-free varieties and Shaknovich said that the majority of his sales are of nicotine-free liquids.

Blowitz said he is not too worried about what the City Council passes, though he hopes e-cigarettes are not blanketed in with tobacco burning cigarettes. That decision would make one key player in the growing debate happy, he said.

“If big tobacco had their way they, electronic cigarettes would be regulated like regular cigarettes. It would make it harder for people like me to stay in business,” he said. 

Read the amended tobacco ordinance below which prohibits the use of e-cigarettes anywhere where smoking is prohibited. Additional reporting by Sarah Bennett.

Read more:

City of Long Beach Amended Tobacco Ordinance Includes E-Cigarettes

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