After months of controversy nationwide regarding the use of e-cigarettes and flavored tobacco products among teenagers, the Board of Supervisors this week unanimously voted its intent to approve a ban on flavored tobacco products—including menthol—despite protests by dozens of tobacco business owners and advocates who support vaping and e-cigarettes as aids to quitting smoking.
Groups from both sides of the issue tried to shout each other down while awaiting entry to the downtown Kenneth Hahn Hall of Administration. Those against the ban—which would apply only to retailers in unincorporated areas of the county—carried signs reading “I Vape, I Vote,” while many proponents wore black T-shirts identifying themselves as “United Families and Parents.” More than 300 people signed up to speak on the issue.
The ordinance needs to come back to the board for a second reading, as early as next week, and would take effect 30 days after that second vote. Tobacco retailers would then have 180 days, under an amendment proposed by Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, to obtain new licenses required under the ordinance and to clear their shelves of flavored tobacco products.
Online sales would not be prohibited and users would not be punished under the ordinance, according to Judy Whitehurst, senior assistant county counsel.
Barbara Ferrer, director of the Department of Public Health, told the board that flavored tobacco products “are driving the current vaping epidemic among youth” and encouraging experimentation that can lead to lifelong addiction.
“Evidence is mounting that vaping can severely impact lung function,” Ferrer said, pointing to nine recent vaping deaths nationwide—including one in Los Angeles County—and decisions by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and surgeon general to declare youth use an epidemic.
One pod of a popular vaping product has as much nicotine as a entire pack of regular cigarettes and nicotine can affect brain development up until the age of 25, according to Ferrer.
“Kids are lured in by the flavors and they are locked in by the nicotine,” said Annie Tegen of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids. “But dozens of vaping advocates said flavored products had helped them quit pack-a-day smoking habits and improved their health.
Some persons at the meeting warned that they would lose their jobs to the ban and worried aloud how they would support their families.
“(It’s) a horrible idea to ban this,” said A Kouture, founder of the International Black Restaurant & Hospitality Association.
Kouture pointed out that government didn’t ban McDonald’s over worries about children’s health or prohibit flavored alcohol over concerns about teen drinking and warned that the ban would fuel a black market.