In Split Vote, WeHo City Council Bans Sale of Flavored Tobacco Products

West Hollywood’s City Council approved on Tuesday night a proposal that would ban the sale of flavored tobacco products. The flavor ban would cover smoking tobacco (cigarettes, pipes, cigars), smokeless tobacco (snuff, snus and chewing tobacco) and nicotine solutions in vape forms (e-cigarettes).

The flavor ban was presented as a public health initiative intended to prevent people from becoming addicted to nicotine, the drug contained in tobacco products.

In its vote, the Council directed staff to bring back an ordinance to ban these products. As of right now, there is no ban and until it passes on second reading whenever a draft ordinance comes to Council these are still allowed to be sold in WeHo.

Studies have shown the vast majority of people who become addicted to nicotine first try it before the age of 18 and many of those young people are first introduced via flavored products. E-cigarette vapes come in dozens of flavors including cotton candy, chocolate, and bubble gum, flavors particularly appealing to young people. Use of tobacco products has been shown to cause cancer, heart disease and other health problems.

“We have a community-wide commitment to helping people with addiction and this falls in that category,” said Councilmember Lindsey Horvath who authored the proposal along with Mayor John D’Amico.

Additionally, the proposal would ban the use of coupons and discounts on tobacco products since they make it cheaper for people to buy tobacco products.

The item was passed with three votes – from D’Amico, Horvath and Councilmember John Heilman. Meanwhile, Councilmember John Duran voted against it and Councilmember Lauren Meister abstained from the vote.

Duran spoke vehemently against the ban, pointing out that West Hollywood is an adult city with less than 10% of its residents under age 18. He also noted federal law already bans people under age 21 from buying any form of tobacco. Duran suggested that people who want flavored tobacco products will just go outside the city to buy it so this ban will not deter use.

“Sometimes I think government can go too far intruding into the private lives of people when we try to regulate human behavior,” said Duran.

Duran further noted that West Hollywood is a city known for its adult nightlife and that passing such a “nanny-state” item as this goes against the culture of the city.

Meister suggested the proposal should first go to the city’s Business License Commission for input before the Council voted on it. She also criticized the lack of clarity about several points of the proposal.

“It this targeting youth or is this targeting our 21+ adult population?” asked Meister.

She also asked if flavored vapes that do not contain nicotine will be included and if flavored cannabis vapes will be included but got no answer.

However, when Meister asked if menthol cigarettes will be banned, Horvath said they would. Horvath explained her proposal was modeled after a Los Angeles County ban, passed in October 2019, on flavored tobacco products that included menthol cigarettes.

Menthol has been used as a flavoring in cigarettes for decades. Menthol brands such a Newport or Salem or Kool are particularly popular with African-American smokers as well LGBT smokers. Meister suggested banning menthol cigarettes that are popular with minority groups could be viewed as discriminatory.

Duran and Meister also questioned the hypocrisy of the city recently approving smoking lounges for cannabis, but now trying to ban flavored tobacco products.

“It is inconsistent for us to support the creation of smoking lounges, hookah bars for our Middle Eastern community and then attempt to do this to our ma and pa retailers,” said Duran.

Heilman responded that public health is more important than business.

“The point of this is to protect our residents from the dangerous impact of tobacco and I’m going to support that over the interests of the business community,” said Heilman.

Heilman also suggested that city staff return with a date for implementing it, saying that waiting until the end of the year would give tobacco retailers time to adapt,

During the public comment period, several store owners criticized the proposal, noting they received no advance notice from the city about the item. Typically, the city seeks input from business owners and the Chamber of Commerce on matters that will impact their business prior to proposing an item like this.

Donny Cacy, who owns the 7-Eleven convenience store on Santa Monica Boulevard at Curson Avenue, suggested the city should work on enforcing the ban of sales to minors rather than initiating this.

Mani Merabi, owner of Smoke for Less

Mani Merabi, owner of Smoke for Less tobacco shop at 8205 Santa Monica Blvd., at La Jolla, said he is a responsible shop owner who has never been cited for selling to minors. He said the ban could put him out of business and the city should work to help keep stores open rather than add to the many empty storefronts in town.

Meanwhile, Arthur Corona, speaking for a group of shop owners, suggested the city shouldn’t ban flavored tobacco products but instead regulate them like cannabis.

“Banning this in one fatal swoop leads to perhaps a slippery slope. I think if we’re looking at the fact it’s flavored, we have to look at flavored alcohol, we have to look at other flavored things that are perhaps are damaging to one’s health,” said Corona.

Resident John Hall said the city shouldn’t change the rules on how a business can operate and suggested grandfathering in existing businesses.

Meanwhile two employees of Equality California spoke in favor of the ban, noting that tobacco use is higher in the LGBT community than the general population and preventing LGBT youth from getting addicted is a good thing.

Horvath and D’Amico initially placed their proposal on the consent calendar, which is where the Council approves multiple items in a single vote without any discussion. However, Duran removed it from the consent calendar so it could be discussed.

This is not the first time a Councilmember has tried to pass a tobacco-related item via the consent calendar. In Dec. 2009, then Councilmember Abbe Land proposed a ban on smoking in outdoor areas of bars and restaurants and initially placed it on the consent calendar. However, Duran also removed that item from the consent calendar for discussion, which ultimately caused the creation of a smoking task force to study the matter. The end result was the city ended up banning smoking on patios of restaurants but not nightclubs.

Two other smoking related items are tentatively scheduled to be on the Council’s agenda in the coming months – a ban on smoking in the city’s parks and a ban on smoking in apartment buildings.

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John Witherspoon
John Witherspoon
4 months ago

Isn’t menthol a flavoring and I have been smoking menthol cigarettes since 8/years old third grade, I’m 62 and would love for them to take that also! ! !

Greg
Greg
4 months ago

Can we please tackle cigarettes?
A smoker effects the air of everyone around them.  It’s the most rude and offensive activity because it infringes on everyone else. Why do we let the 10% who smoke ruin the air for the other 90%? The American Lung Association has given our city an F. Fix this!!!

Eric Jon Schmidt
4 months ago
Reply to  Greg

I agree. The City of Santa Monica has made smoking anywhere in public illegal. West Hollywood should do the same thing.

Weho resident
Weho resident
4 months ago

I can understand banning flavored tobacco products in suburban neighborhoods that have a higher youth population however to ban flavored tobacco products in a city demolishing single family homes/charming duplexes just to increase population, natural resource depletion which has more environmental impact then flavored tobacco. Approving more cannabis stores to be open, which in my opinion has brought down the value of the city and it’s safety is more concerning than flavored tobacco. I think the current Council is completely disconnected with the reality of the city and are only thinking of there own personal gain and vision. Perhaps next… Read more »

Nanny City
Nanny City
4 months ago

Soon they are going to force all men over 50 to have a vasectomy –

TomSmart
TomSmart
4 months ago
Reply to  Nanny City

And what’s wrong with that???

jimmy palmieri
jimmy palmieri
4 months ago

I agree with banning the use of coupons. I, however do not agree with banning of other items. I understand the concern about smoking. I wish I never started , as my on and off quitting for so many years hasn’t been easy. However, crossing the street to buy cigarettes, while we are supporting cannabis seems comic. I agree with points that Lauren brought up. This seems to be unfair to the compliant business owners, who will be financially impacted by this ban. I’d have rather scene an aggressive social marketing campaign against smoking, rather than ban an legal product.… Read more »

Alison
Alison
4 months ago

This is an over-reach by our City Council. Let’s ban this, let’s ban that. What’s next? This is political correctness gone overboard.

Déjà vu
Déjà vu
4 months ago

Wow!
Today the flavored cigarettes to protect people from themselves, tomorrow could be ice cream or pizza or cake to protect us overeaters.
Hypocrisy is alive and well within our City Council.

Thank you to Council members Duran and Meister. Clearly, you are the respopnsible adults in the room.

Eric Jon Schmidt
4 months ago

The most important thing to remember here is that public health, safety and quality of life in West Hollywood should be paramount. The second important thing to remember is which Council Members voted to ban and which didn’t. I think it would be interesting to know if Duran was influenced to vote no since he had no real reason for doing so. As usual, Meister would not take a stand on the issue. She is trying to appease everyone and that is not possible. She needs the courage to take a stand. Yes, there are pot lounges and lots of… Read more »

Alan Strasburg
Alan Strasburg
4 months ago

Bravo to John Duran for removing this offensive intrusion into personal choice by local government from the spineless consent calendar and bringing it up for debate. I am not a smoker, and never have been, but for bozos on student council to arrogantly appropriate the role of health regulator to the minions and subjects over whom they lord their unique and hypocritical “progressivism” amounts to representative democracy at its very worst. This is not a new occurrence in our fair hamlet, it is business as usual, and business as usual must be voted out.

Jim Nasium
Jim Nasium
4 months ago

NO BRAINER:

Fruity flavors attract people to bad stuff. Especially the things, flavored or not, that serve are no purpose and are unhealthy.

Let’s do more of this.

Larry Block
Larry Block
4 months ago

Approving smoking and cannabis consumption lounges for all flavors of weed and banning tobacco that is fda approved and regulated is ridiculous. So you can buy ounces of high potency weed in WeHo but can’t purchase a Camel Crush cigarette? Let’s face it minors will just smoke weed instead of tobacco! Doesn’t being 21 and over give an adult the right to make their own choices? This isn’t progressive it’s prohibition!

Greg
Greg
4 months ago
Reply to  Larry Block

What smoking/vaping related products do you sell at your store?

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