Throngs of people filled the hallway of LA City Council Chambers Thursday afternoon. Different colored shirts that read, “LA Families Fighting Flavored Tobacco,” “#SaveHookah” and “No Menthol Ban” dotted the crowd. All were waiting to head into the chamber and give their comments during a meeting that advanced the decision to ban flavored tobacco products citywide.
An LA County Board of Supervisors meeting in September unanimously approved a ban on all flavored tobacco product sales in unincorporated areas of LA county. Thursday’s meeting pertains solely to the city of LA.
The proposed ordinance, issued by City Attorney Michael Feuer, called for a citywide ban on all flavored tobacco products including menthol cigarettes and hookah. The report outlined different legislative options on the comprehensiveness of the ban, but the report stated, “The City Attorney’s Office recommends nothing short of a Citywide ban on the sale of all flavored tobacco products, without exception, as the best option to protect our current generation of youth.”
The ultimate decisions, however, contained exceptions to the ban on the sale of flavored tobacco products. Councilman Mitch O’Farrell proposed exempting Hookah lounges for on-site flavor tobacco consumption with certain restrictions.
George Jonson, co-founder of the Hookah Chamber of Commerce, said the decision was “not a full win for us, but not a full loss. We are coming from a very rich history, so we hope that we can continue to save it for people who want to retail the product. There’s a lot of people who consume at home.”
Councilman Curren D. Price Jr. also raised concerns over the ban of menthol as having unintended consequences for the black community, an issue also raised by several guests attending the meeting.
Research showed that 88% of black smokers in the U.S. smoke menthol cigarettes. Some feared that banning them would have unintended consequences regarding law enforcement. However, the NAACP wants to restrict the sale of menthol cigarettes because of their disproportionate harm on black communities.
“When we see police on the streets, it already makes us tense, just because we know the history and the history isn’t always pretty,” said Lorraine Jackson, a resident who wore a “No Menthol Ban” shirt.
The committee eventually voted to allow the sale of menthol cigarettes in adult-only tobacco stores.
Several organizations, such as the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network, were critical of the exemptions.
“Policymakers at all levels of government need to act immediately. The FDA, Congress, and state and local lawmakers have the authority to clear the marketplace of all flavored tobacco products, including menthol cigarettes, which clearly appeal to youth,” said the organization in a statement after the meeting.
According to statistics released by the CDC, almost 70% of middle and high school students who use tobacco report using flavored products.
Middle and high school students from local L.A. schools advocated the ban on flavored tobacco products without exemptions. Some recounted stories of their friends smoking at school and pressuring them to do the same.
“I’ve seen so many people in my neighborhood vape […] I do not want to see my friends or family fall for these harmful products,” said Tanya, an eighth-grade student from New Los Angeles Charter Middle School.
The CDC reports over 2,000 e-cigarette related lung injuries and 48 deaths in the U.S. With the number of vaping-related illnesses on the rise, several jurisdictions in California have already enacted comprehensive flavored tobacco bans. San Francisco, Oakland, and El Cerrito are the only cities that have a complete ban on flavored tobacco products so far.
"I think this council should err on the side of protecting our kids...the county just did that, there’s no reason why the city shouldn’t do that either,” Feur said.
If the City Council approves, Feuer and his office will create an ordinance for future deliberations.