Even though he considers himself an advocate of the e-cigarette lifestyle, Andy Han, owner of the Vape Unit in Monterey Park, says he agrees with the city’s recent approval of a ban on “vaping” in public spaces such as city parks, restaurants and bars.
“You shouldn’t vape where you’re not allowed to smoke,” said Han, quickly adding that he disagrees with perceptions that electronic cigarettes contain the same health risks as traditional cigarettes.
“Vaping is not a trend, it’s a lifestyle,” said Han, his personal vaporizer in his hand. “I like to promote it as an alternative to smoking a cigarette.”
E-cigarette manufacturers and sellers often tout e-cigarettes as a tool to help people kick the smoking habit, however the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and other health agencies have yet to embrace that claim.
An American Heart Association policy statement released Sunday said it is reasonable for health officials to support the use of e-cigarettes to help quit smoking after failing using other cessation methods. However, the association also points out that while “e-cigarette aerosol is likely to be much less toxic than cigarette smoking, the products are unregulated, may contain low levels of toxic chemicals and have not been proven cessation devices.”
Traditional cigarettes contain tobacco and require a smoker to exhale the nicotine-laden smoke produced when lit into the air. Battery-operated e-cigarettes, on the other hand, turn chemicals such as nicotine into water vapor before it is exhaled.
Before voting, the council heard from speakers urging them to ban vaping in public.
Miguel Olivares, an outreach specialist for the Glendale Adventist Medical Center, told the council e-cigarette manufacturers are targeting youth with flavors like bubble gum and chocolate.
He said studies are finding that e-cigarettes still contain a health risk and should not be labeled as an alternative to smoking cigarettes.
“We’re seeing a lot of renormalizing for smoking,” Olivarez said about the growing popularity of vaping in public.
State law already bans the sale of e-cigarettes to minors and the FDA is proposing to label e-cigarettes as tobacco products in order to extend its regulatory authority. The FDA could also limit the way e-cigarettes are marketed and require health warnings, similar to tobacco products.
Nonetheless, opponents say easy access to e-cigarettes could lead young people to try other tobacco products, including cigarettes.
To prove his point, one vocal resident asked the council to smell the flavorings used in e-cigarettes.
“Look how delicious that smells,” he said. “That’s why people think it’s healthy.”
Monty Messex, director of the Tobacco Control and Prevention Program for the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health, said e-cigarettes appeal to children and teens and claimed there has been a dramatic increase in the use by youth and young adults
“Although e-cigarettes are less harmful than traditional cigarettes, e-cigarettes possess harmful risks,” Messex told the council. “Vapor found to contain toxic chemicals that could trigger asthma and coughing.”
Councilwoman Teresa Real Sebastian, holding up her asthma inhaler, said smoking is something that she is very much opposed to.
“I was one of those people that were fooled,” she said. “When e-cigarettes started coming out I thought they didn’t have nicotine because that’s the way they were promoted.”
There were no speakers at the meeting against the amendment.
On Tuesday, Han told EGP he had heard a public vaping ban could be in the works, but did not realize the measure had already been approved or know the exact details.
Open for about a year and a half and located just a few blocks from East Los Angeles College, the Vape Unit sells e-cigarettes and related products to both long-time smokers and younger people just getting started.
But Han doesn’t think tighter restrictions will keep young people from smoking. “It’s something you can’t stop,” he said, pointing out that cigarette smokers can be found everywhere, despite restrictions on where you can smoke and on how the product can be marketed.
“I would rather see them vaping than smoking,” said Han, who like many e-cigarette proponents believes vape pens can help ease smokers off nicotine.
According to Han, he used to smoke a pack of cigarettes a day before switching to vapor pens, which incorporate flavors that he says makes vaping “relaxing.”
“There has been a lot of success stories out of this store,” he said, referring to customers he claims have significantly cut their nicotine habit since switching to vaping.
Blowing a puff of vapor into a napkin to demonstrate that unlike cigarettes, no tar remnants are left behind when vaping, Han told EGP fears about secondhand vapor are unfounded.
Vaping in public places like restaurants could be a “nuisance” to others, acknowledges Han, but he thinks changing where vaping takes place is the best solution.
Han told EGP he wants to change the perception of the lifestyle and make it “more classy.” Opening more “vapor lounges” could help encourage e-cigarette smokers to vape in more appropriate venues, where they can still have conversations with friends.
“We’re working on a movement to make it acceptable to the masses,” Han said.
Monterey Park joins Los Angeles and a number of other cities that have responded to the increasing popularity of e-cigarettes by amending bans on smoking in public to include the devices. The city council also voted last week to require retailers selling e-cigarettes to apply for a tobacco license.
Voting unanimously, council members said the ban addresses public fears that exposure to secondhand smoke or vapor from e-cigarettes is a health risk.