Hard on the heels of an emotional vote by the Los Angeles City Council, Mammoth’s legislators this past week charged forward with a plan to regulate electronic cigarettes.
The Town Council, at its meeting Wednesday, March 5, considered a bill that would include the so-called “e-cigarettes” into the current town tobacco ordinance, which imposes regulations on tobacco use and smoking.
The Town Council’s action came at the request of Nancy Mahannah, the Mono County Health Promotion Division Manager, whose concerns also were voiced by Dr. Richard Johnson, Inyo and Mono County Health Officer, in a separate news release.
“We need to get on top of this trend now to prevent the re-normalization of smoking,” Johnson said.
In analyzing the issue, the town staff, led by Town Manager Dan Holler, said the move to regulate the use of e-cigarettes “is based on a number of reports and studies now coming out on the devices.”
There is also a larger policy debate over the impact of how e-cigarettes may encourage smoking, and are not simply seen as a means to help others quit smoking, he said.
Holler asked the council to provide his staff options for amending the town’s tobacco regulations to include e-cigarettes, which would “at a minimum” include the devices, as well as a review of other sections for potential amendments.
More than 20 percent of stores selling tobacco products in both counties sell e-cigarettes in a variety of flavors, according to a survey by the Inyo and Mono County Health Departments.
Statewide, the number of stores selling e-cigarettes quadrupled from 11.5 percent in 2011 to 45.7 percent in 2013.
Locally, conversations with a youth coalition in Inyo County have revealed that an increasing number of students think e-cigarettes are not nicotine products, said April Eagan of Inyo County Health and Human Services Prevention Services.
The new devices are “techie, futuristic looking,” she said. “Their perception is that it’s harmless.”
The e-cigarette proposal has become a national hot-button issue, which the Los Angeles City Council voted on Tuesday night.
Members of the council ultimately voted to treat e-cigarettes the same as regular cigarettes, banning their use in parks, restaurants and most workplaces.
Los Angeles’ decision means that within weeks, e-cigarette users will join smokers relegated to sidewalks outside their jobs and smoking porches at bars and nightclubs.
In L.A., the devices will be permitted in “vaping lounges,” where customers can sample flavored e-cigarette liquids. But they will be outlawed in outdoor dining areas of restaurants and at city-sponsored farmers’ markets.
Five states and the District of Columbia have already included e-cigarettes in anti-smoking bans or moved to restrict where they can be used. Last year, New York City passed an ordinance applying traditional anti-smoking rules to e-cigarettes and Chicago recently moved to prohibit vaping in bars, restaurants and most indoor public places.
Critics warn that the electronic devices, which produce a nicotine-laced vapor inhaled by users, could pave the way for a resurgence in tobacco use among young adults.
However, a lack of federal data on the question has given ammunition to supporters of e-cigarettes who asserted that the L.A. council was acting prematurely.
Coincidentally, the New York Times on Wednesday presented a detailed examination of the phenomenon, in a P.1 story.
The newspaper outlined the vexing issues health regulators confront in getting their arms around the use of the devices.
Like a cigarette, e-cigarettes, e-hookahs and vape pens can be nicotine delivery devices.
Unlike a cigarette, they are unregulated by the FDA.
They come in a medley of flavors, like Belgian waffle, vanilla cupcake, and peppermint blast, and under brand names such as Njoy, Blu, Imperial Hookah, Logic Hookah, Excellent E-cig, and a variety of “vape pens.”
Labeling on the products is wildly divergent.
The Blu e-cigarette says it contains “smoke juices,” but does not mention nicotine. The Imperial Hookah label says it contains “nicotine content.” The Logic Hookah says on its label that it “satisfies nicotine cravings,” while the Excellent E-cigarette says only “nicotine is highly addictive.”
The Mammoth Lakes Town Council, in reaction to the rising debate, had a vote scheduled on considering incorporating e-cigarettes into the town’s tobacco and smoking regulations.
Current town regulations include the use of tobacco products in the areas of sales, parks, enforcement and penalties.
Lyra Pierotti contributed to this report.