Retail sales of tobacco and vape products could be banned in Laguna Beach, a city which was the first in Orange County to end smoking in public places in 2017.

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The City Council is expected to begin discussions Tuesday on whether to ban such sales and consider directing staff to study the issue and potentially return with an ordinance for the council to consider at a later date, according to a city staff report

In May 2017, the council voted to prohibit the public use of all smoking products — including tobacco, nicotine and marijuana devices. That ordinance expanded smoking regulations to include all public places.

Council member George Weiss has requested a discussion on ending retail sales of tobacco and vaping products within city limits. In a telephone interview last week, Weiss said when he walked the city’s streets during his run for City Council last year, he noticed a substantial number of cigarette and e-cigarette debris on the ground and thought “why are we promoting something that kills people?”

Weiss emphasized the advantages of a ban, specifying the health and safety benefits for both individuals and the community.

“When (people with respiratory illnesses) are exposed to secondhand smoke, it’s more than an inconvenience,” he said.

Weiss also mentioned there are environmental considerations.

“Environmental impacts — including people smoking on trails and leaving lit butts near wildlife — do more damage than individuals realize,” he said.

In 2014, Laguna Niguel banned the use of electronic cigarettes in recreational areas. Laguna Beach became the first Orange County city to ban all smoking in public places in 2017, with Dana Point following shortly after.

In 2019, Laguna Niguel prohibited the retail sale of flavored electronic cigarette products, the first in Orange County to do so. 

Since Beverly Hills and Manhattan Beach passed bans on retail tobacco sales in the past two years, Weiss said he is recommending one for Laguna Beach as well, but he would like to see cigar stores excluded.

“We would ask staff to look at the economic impact on the 16 or so stores that sell these products and paraphernalia. We wouldn’t target the cigar stores … (they) would likely be exempt, but that’s up to the council to decide. We would look at what the other two cities have done — I don’t want to put anybody out of business. I think it’ll have a minimal impact on that,” Weiss adds.

According to the city staff report, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has noted the detriments of smoking, such as threats to public health through direct use, as well as through secondhand smoke. Many people are involuntarily exposed to over 7,000 chemicals in all public settings, including beaches, according to the CDC.

The City Council is scheduled to meet at 5 p.m. on Tuesday. The meeting can be viewed on the city’s website.

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