City Council favors ban on flavored tobacco, flavored vaping products

Following the lead of the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors, the Long Beach City Council voted Tuesday night to start crafting a ban on flavored vaping products and tobacco amid an outbreak of vaping-related injuries and deaths.

The unanimous vote instructs the city attorney’s office to begin writing an ordinance that would temporarily ban all flavored tobacco and flavored vaping products, including menthol. The ban would go into place while the city develops a long-term strategy. The ban, which has no set expiration date, would require stores to comply within 30 days of its enactment.

Hours before the City Council voted on Tuesday, county supervisors voted unanimously to ban the same products. That ban will go into effect in 30 days. Long Beach’s ban won’t start until the City Council votes to approve it a second time and it’s signed by the mayor.

The ban will not extend to vaping products with THC like those sold inside legal cannabis outlets throughout the city.

Before voting Tuesday, the council deliberated about a number of potential solutions at a meeting that drew attention from local television as well as a large contingent of vape-store owners who advocated against the ban.

The issue came up in the wake of more than 100 Californians reportedly being hospitalized for breathing problems and lung damage after vaping, according to the state health department. Two of those cases have been in Long Beach.

Over a dozen deaths have been reported nationwide, two in California, with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention stating last week that the outbreak of lung injuries were associated with e-cigarette use.

City Council to consider temporary ban on sales of e-cigarettes in Long Beach

“We’re talking about a public health issue where people are dying,” said Councilwoman Suzie Price, who authored the request for the ban. “People are actually dying. I understand we want to be business friendly, trust me. Let me just say that we are the only city that’s offering a mitigated temporary ban while we figure out some policies that will be long-term.”

In addition to Los Angeles County, several states including Michigan, Massachusetts and Washington have instituted bans while a growing list of other legislatures are leaning toward enacting their own bans. Included with the county supervisor’s vote Tuesday was a call to Gov. Gavin Newsom to ban vaping statewide.

Price said that she didn’t want the next vaping-related death to be in Long Beach.

A large number of vape-store owners and those that work in the vaping industry spoke Tuesday night to share their positive experiences with vaping products, namely their ability to help people quit traditional cigarettes.

Resident Matt Morton attributed his not having a cigarette in over a year to his use of flavored vaping liquids. He asked the council to work with the store owners to find a solution rather than move forward with a ban.

“I have apple-watermelon in my pocket right now. I love it,” Morton said. “Flavors are for everyone. Banning flavors on a knee-jerk reaction like this for something else is a problem when you have a fantastic community that’s willing to help.”

Business owners warned that a ban could send customers to the black market, which could exacerbate the health issues and could put people out of business. There city has 13 vape-only stores but nearly 500 others that are licensed to sell tobacco and vape products according to Kelly Colopy, the city’s director of the Department of Health and Human Services.

The council entertained expanding the ban to a permanent one before ultimately siding with a temporary ban that would stay in place until more information becomes available for it to craft a permanent policy.

Part of the process will include a future presentation by the city’s health department as well as a dialogue between the department and shop owners over the shape of the future ordinance.

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