With nicotine use back on the rise among youth after decades of decline, the Board of Supervisors approved an ordinance banning flavored e-cigarettes and flavored tobacco products, including menthol, throughout Los Angeles County’s unincorporated areas.
The ordinance regulates smoke shops by establishing business licensing requirements and by further strengthening existing public health laws.
“The growing popularity of e-cigarettes and vaping puts the health and wellbeing of our communities, particularly our youth, at risk,” Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas said. “This is not an assault on businesses but a thoughtful and balanced approach to regulation.”
“For decades, we were making incredible progress in decreasing tobacco use among young people. But flavored e-cigarettes have reversed that trend. Now nearly 1 in 10 high schoolers report using e-cigarettes,” said Supervisor Janice Hahn. “By taking action now and banning the sale of flavored products that mask the smell and taste of tobacco, we may be able to save this next generation from the same terrible health effects of nicotine addiction that generations before them suffered from.”
According to the LA County Department of Public Health, 1 in 10 high school students are current e-cigarette users; 83 percent of current tobacco users reported using a flavored tobacco product; and 61 percent of current e-cigarette users bought e-cigarettes from vape shops.
“The rapid increase of severe vaping-associated pulmonary illness proves we have no time to lose in protecting populations disproportionately targeted by the tobacco and e-cigarette industries, especially our youth,” LA County Public Health Director Dr. Barbara Ferrer said. “With 530 cases nationally, sixteen of which are in LA County, including one death, the time to make real change is now.”
More than 100 students attended the Board of Supervisors meeting to support the ordinance, led by United Parents and Students. Experts from UCLA, USC, Charles R. Drew University of Medicine and Science, American Lung Association, American Heart Association, and many other organizations testified in support of the ordinance.
Annie Tegen, Western Regional Advocacy Director with the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, applauded what she described as a strong ordinance that would protect Los Angeles youth from the dangers of tobacco. “This measure will go a long way toward combating the youth e-cigarette epidemic as well as keeping dangerous menthol cigarettes out of the hands of Los Angeles kids,” she said.
“Because of menthol, African American communities experience the greatest burden of tobacco-related mortality of any racial or ethnic group in the United States,” said the Rev. John Cager III, Pastor of Ward African Methodist Episcopal Church. “When the FDA banned flavored cigarettes in 2009, they left an exemption for menthol because it was just too profitable for the tobacco industry. The Supervisors must reverse this mistake and make Los Angeles County a leader in putting Black lives before Big Tobacco.”
Supervisors Ridley-Thomas and Hahn filed a motion in early 2018 directing Public Health to work with the LA County Department of Regional Planning, County Counsel, Sheriff, Treasurer and Tax Collector, and community stakeholders to assess the number and location of nuisance tobacco shops countywide, and to research ways to monitor and regulate them. The motion also called for developing education and outreach strategies to address the use of tobacco and certain other substances.
Some of their findings and recommendations became the basis of the ordinance.
Currently, LA County has 85 tobacco shops. To give them time to come into compliance with the new requirements, Supervisor Ridley-Thomas filed a motion to extend the implementation period to 180 days.
Public Health will work with the LA County Department of Consumer and Business Affairs to offer small-business concierge services and other resources for businesses that are impacted by this ordinance.