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Los Angeles moves to ban e-cigarettes, joining NY, others

An e-cigarette sits in a tray on the bar at the Henley Vaporium in New York City December 18, 2013. REUTERS/Mike Segar
An e-cigarette sits in a tray on the bar at the Henley Vaporium in New York City December 18, 2013. REUTERS/Mike Segar

By Dan Whitcomb and Steve Gorman

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - The Los Angeles City Council voted on Tuesday to ban the use of electronic cigarettes, also known as "vaping," from restaurants, bars, nightclubs and other public spaces in the nation's second-largest city.

A spokeswoman for Mayor Eric Garcetti confirmed to Reuters that he would sign the measure into law in the coming days.

When he does, Los Angeles will join a growing list of cities, including New York, Boston and Chicago, that restrict the use of e-cigarettes, which are battery-powered cartridges filled with liquid nicotine that creates an inhalable vapor when heated.

At stake is the future of an industry that some analysts believe will eventually overtake the $80 billion-a-year tobacco business.

Public health experts fear that vaping, which has recently gained popularity among teens and young adults, may serve as a gateway to smoking for the uninitiated.

Critics also point to potential harm posed from second-hand vapor from e-cigarettes, saying too little is known about the effects of the chemicals contained in the cartridges.

"We have an obligation to protect the workforce from the effects of secondhand aerosol exhaled by people who choose to 'vape' on e-cigarettes," said City Council member Mitch O'Farrell, who co-sponsored the proposal.

"We also have a responsibility to protect our youth and everyone else in public places from the carcinogens found in the ultra-fine particles in e-cigarette aerosol," he said.

The proposal was opposed by the makers of e-cigarettes, who pitch their product as a safer alternative to smoking traditional cigarettes and say there is no evidence that second-hand vape smoke is harmful. Advocates of e-cigarettes also say they can help smokers kick the habit.

FDA MAY WEIGH IN

The Los Angeles ban differs from restrictions in other major cities in that it was amended to allow vaping in lounges and e-cigarette stores and for filming or theatrical purposes.

"Although we believe the final decision was made in the absence of credible science, it was a more reasonable and sensible approach than the original proposal," NJOY, the largest independent maker of e-cigarettes, said in a written statement.

"NJOY remains concerned, however, that banning e-cigarette use in public places could deter current tobacco smokers from using the products and thus disserves public health," the company said.

The City Council action comes as the U.S. government is contemplating further regulations at the national level.

The Food and Drug Administration has already proposed a rule that would bring e-cigarettes under its jurisdiction and could potentially require companies to register and pay fees, list the ingredients in their products, obtain approval for new products and restrict online sales and marketing to children.

A law passed in 2009 gave the FDA the authority to regulate cigarettes, smokeless tobacco and roll-your-own tobacco.

It also gave the agency the power to deem other tobacco products to be within its jurisdiction, but it must first issue a rule to that effect.

E-cigarette companies believe they should be exempt from the full spectrum of regulations, saying that would stifle innovation, damage small business and hurt consumers trying to quit smoking.

Tobacco company Lorillard Inc, the owner of the blu e-cigarette brand, is the dominant player in the field, followed by privately held NJOY and LOGIC Technology. The three account for an estimated 80 percent of the market.

(Reporting by Steve Gorman and Dan Whitcomb; Editing by Cynthia Johnston, Meredith Mazzilli, Ken Wills and Jan Paschal)

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