The Laguna Beach City Council rejected a proposal Tuesday to ban the sale of tobacco and vaping products in the city limits.
The City Council voted 2-3 (Mayor Bob Whalen, Mayor Pro Tem Sue Kempf, and Councilmember Peter Blake dissented) on a proposal introduced by Councilmember George Weiss to direct city staffers to research, analyze, and present a new city law outlawing tobacco and vaping sales, with exceptions for sales made within hotels and cigar shops.
In light of a nationwide spike in vaping among underaged teenagers and young adults, Weiss argued Laguna Beach needed to join cities of Beverly Hills and Manhattan Beach in taking a stand against tobacco companies.
“When I was running for election I walked the streets a lot and find vaping products on the street,” Weiss said. “And I know those vaping products were purchase by… teens. Teenage vaping is a huge problem and the state recognized it recently and has taxed vaping products… That’s a good step from the state but I think we need to go further to protect that vulnerable class of teens.”
Some Beverly Hills hoteliers objected to the proposed ban because they sell cigarettes to guests by room service, Weiss said. He suggested considering a carveout for Laguna Beach hotels and small businesses signaling their bottom lines would be damaged by the proposed ban
Laguna Beach has already outlawed smoking in public places since 2017. Laguna Beach police officers are tasked with enforcing the ban but lacked the staffing until recently to crack down on smokers lighting up at city trailheads. The department is currently recruiting for a park ranger position to help with this and other nuisances thanks to a recent increase in metered parking rates.
Kempf shared she’s never been a smoker but would prefer the city avoid adopting laws that could invite legal challenges by the tobacco industry.
“These tobacco companies have deep pockets and I don’t want to be one of the cities they come after,” she said.
Tobacco and vaping product sales in California are restricted to those who are at least 21 years old, Whalen said. He suggested cracking down on any retailer who is cheating the system by selling to underage customers.
In addition to the public health and addiction concerns, Weiss said banning tobacco sales would benefit the environment by cutting the number of butts found during trail and beach clean-up days. Carelessly discarded cigarettes also create a wildfire hazard in a drought where vegetation is extremely dry.
Orange County environmental advocate Hoiyin Ip said banning tobacco and vaping product sales would demonstrate Laguna Beach’s commitment to social and environmental justice.
“Some people also defend [tobacco companies] saying ‘well it’s the freedom to smoke,’” Ip said. “Well, addiction is anything but freedom.”
Ip also suggested councilmembers reconsider the outdoor smoking ban to also include no smoking in common areas of apartment buildings.
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