The vapor-producing devices would be treated like conventional tobacco products.
The Los Angeles City Council voted to join New York and Chicago in banning the use of electronic cigarettes in workplaces, restaurants and public areas, threatening the growth of an industry that had $1.5 billion in sales last year.
By a vote of 14-0, the council approved a measure that treats so-called e-cigarettes the same as conventional tobacco products, which California has restricted since 1995. If Mayor Eric Garcetti signs the legislation, the ban would take effect a month later.
Sales of e-cigarettes reached $1.5 billion in 2013, according to Bloomberg Industries analyst Kenneth Shea, as established industry players including Altria Group Inc., Lorillard Inc. and Reynolds American Inc. marketed the products as safer, tastier alternatives to smoking. Local and state limits on e-cigarettes, which are shaped like conventional cigarettes and vaporize a liquid containing nicotine and flavorings, may curb the growth of the segment, said Cynthia Cabrera, executive director of the Smoke Free Alternatives Trade Association, an electronic cigarettes industry group.
“We’re opposed to such restrictions, primarily because e-cigarettes don’t contain tobacco and they don’t emit smoke,” she said. “These bans have the potential to stifle the growth of the category. It’s an industry that’s expanding very rapidly, offering smokers an alternative to combustible cigarettes, and by our estimation, creating close to 100,000 jobs in the process.”
City Councilman Mitch O’Farrell, who proposed the Los Angeles rules, said the vapor from electronic cigarettes may contain carcinogens and other harmful agents. There are no regulations on materials in the flavor cartridges inserted into e-cigarettes, some of which carry marijuana derivatives, O’Farrell said.
“E-cigarette and big tobacco lobbyists have their talking points very clear — they’re misleading and inaccurate,” O’Farrell said. “My mission is to protect public health.”
The drive against e-cigarettes is motivated by hostility toward the tobacco industry and encouraged by pharmaceutical companies that sell nicotine-delivery systems to people trying to quit smoking, said Jason Healy, president of Lorillard’s Blu eCigs unit.
“There is an inherent hatred of tobacco cigarettes, which has been earned — fair enough,” Healy. “People are trying to make us out as a wolf in sheep’s clothing. We’re a sheep in wolf’s clothing. Ninety-nine percent of our customers are existing smokers.”
E-cigarettes will represent about $1.8 billion of the $80 billion U.S. tobacco market this year.
Despite sales growth, they get no oversight by the Food and Drug Administration or Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, said Kathleen Hoke of the Legal Resource Center for Tobacco Regulation, Litigation and Advocacy at the University of Maryland.
North Dakota, New Jersey and Utah already include e-cigarettes in their bans on indoor smoking in public places, she said, while other states have passed laws against the devices on school property. New York City added e-cigarettes to its public smoking restrictions in December, while Chicago did so in January.
“This is a precursor to changing state laws,” Hoke said. “People are accustomed to clean air in public places or workplaces, so this is kind of an extension of that, even though people don’t know what’s inside these electronic cigarettes.”