For decades, Los Angeles County has recognized the public health risks associated with tobacco use and has adopted measures to limit the exposure of residents to secondhand smoke. However, County ordinances have not been updated to reflect recent increases in the popularity of electronic cigarettes (e-cigarettes) , vaping and the 2016 legalization of recreational marijuana.
A motion introduced by Supervisor Sheila Kuehl and co-authored by Supervisor Hilda Solis seeks to eliminate these omissions by exploring ways in which the County can update its smoke-free ordinances to include e-cigarettes, vaping and marijuana, all of which can contain hazardous substances.
The motion, which also asked the Department of Public Health for ideas on how the County can expand its smoke-free ordinances to include innovative policies, passed unanimously on Tuesday.
Unfortunately, e-cigarettes are marketed using a wide variety of media channels and approaches that have been used in the past to market conventional tobacco products to youth, and manufacturers have also marketed flavors designed to attract younger consumers, with such as bubble gum, cotton candy, apple juice and sour gummy worms.
Disturbingly, both national and local data indicate that these marketing efforts targeting youth have been successful. E-cigarette use among youth is a growing public health concern, as it is now the most commonly used form of tobacco by youth in the U.S, according to a 2016 Surgeon General’s report.
The 2015 LA County Health Survey demonstrated that in Los Angeles County, about 79,000 young adults aged 18 through 24 use e-cigarettes. E-cigarettes are marketed as a more “safe” alternative to cigarettes but contain many of the same carcinogens, including benzene (which is found in car exhaust) and heavy metals such as nickel, tin, and lead.
“The notion that e-cigarettes are ‘harmless’ is dangerous disinformation, as studies have shown children who use these products are more likely to start smoking cigarettes. Any public smoking can impede our residents’ enjoyment of public spaces. It is time to update the Smoke-Free ordinances to reflect current times” said Kuehl after the vote.
In addition to examining the possible inclusion of e-cigarettes in Los Angeles County smoke-free ordinances, the Board also asked for recommendations about how the County could update its ordinances to address the smoking of marijuana.
The passage of Proposition 64 in 2016 legalized the sale and consumption of recreational marijuana. While the sale of recreational marijuana remains illegal in unincorporated Los Angeles County, residents are free to smoke both for medical and recreational purposes. Less is known about the impacts of secondhand marijuana smoke exposure compared to secondhand tobacco smoke due to federal research limitations, although research indicates that exposure to marijuana smoke poses a significant health risk to smokers. According to the Center for Disease Control, smoking marijuana exposes the consumer to many of the same hazardous substances found in tobacco that are linked to cardiovascular and respiratory harm.
In addition to ensuring the safety and enjoyment of public spaces, the Board hopes that any possible changes to County’s Smoke-Free ordinances will have a positive impact on young people in Los Angeles County.
Prohibiting electronic smoking devices and marijuana in smoke-free locations will protect the public from all forms of secondhand smoke while simultaneously decreasing youth exposure to these chemicals.