Smokers in Manhattan Beach, take note: Soon, it will be considered illegal to light up in public. Same goes for e-cigarette users.
On Tuesday night, the Manhattan Beach City Council voted unanimously to adopt a citywide public smoking ban that includes e-cigarettes — increasingly popular battery-operated devices that release nicotine in a vapor. Under the new ordinance, which aims to reduce secondhand smoke and cigarette litter, smokers and e-cigarette users can only light up legally on private property, in moving cars or inside a smoking-approved hotel room. There is no designated smoking area in the city.
“This is a very clear example to me of how policy can affect a community’s health and how it can help change behavior,” Mayor Amy Howorth said. “…It is our job to watch out for the health of our community.”
Currently, smoking in Manhattan Beach is prohibited on the beach, The Strand, Veterans Parkway as well as in parks and certain places of public employment, such as bars and restaurants. Under state law, smoking is also prohibited in any outdoor area within 20 feet of a main exit or entrance of a public building.
The law is designed to be self-enforcing, but a complaint call to the city’s code enforcement officer or police department can result in the smoker’s citation. A first-time infraction is a $100 fine, second time $200-$250, third time $500.
Sona Coffee, the city’s environmental programs manager, said Tuesday that it was time to expand the current ordinance for the benefit of both environmental and public health. The citywide ban is intended to protect residents from secondhand smoke, reduce cigarette litter (which accounts for 40 percent of trash collected during Heal the Bay’s Annual Coastal Cleanup Day) and help current smokers quit, she said.
Coffee also asked the Council to approve $20,000 for an outreach campaign, particularly aimed at the city’s regular flow of tourists. She recommended contracting a graphic designer for the job; among her proposed ideas were installing “Smoke Free Manhattan Beach” street banners and distributing window decals and drink coasters to restaurants. Citing next fiscal year’s pending budget, which includes the creation of a new full-time position for a city graphic designer, the Council did not act on the funding Tuesday night.
Although a prohibition this drastic is not yet common, Calabasas, Coronado, Loma Linda and San Rafael have all adopted similar city-wide ordinances. Beverly Hills, Gardena, Los Angeles, Long Beach and Lakewood are among local jurisdictions that have adopted regulations for e-cigarettes, a contentious topic Tuesday night.
Ian Keegan, who owns the only vapor shop in Manhattan Beach, urged the Council to think twice before including e-cigarettes in the definition. E-cigarettes don’t pose as severe health or environmental hazards as regular cigarettes do, he argued. They’re trying to be a part of the solution, not the problem, he said, arguing that e-cigarettes often act as a buffer between addicted smokers and regular cigarettes.
Manhattan Beach resident Michael Colbert would be one of them. He told the Council that he hasn’t smoked a cigarette in three months — a feat for the heavy smoker of 20 years. His 22-year-old son recently made the switch too, he said.
“If you eliminate something as an option, you’re just encouraging the lesser or the easier option,” Colbert said.
City attorney Quinn Barrow later clarified that the new ordinance is not a ban on the use or sale of e-cigarettes; they will be treated as equal to cigarettes.
Opponents of e-cigarettes urged that a precautionary approach, amid limited research of the vaporizer’s effects, would be the best approach. Others advised the council to take the ban one step further by prohibiting smoking in multiple-unit residential complexes. Under council direction, city staff will return in six months with a report exploring that expansion.
With its ban on plastic bags, polystyrene containers and public smoking, Manhattan Beach is now eligible for a three-year extension to meet the Los Angeles Water Quality Control Board’s Total Maximum Daily Load regulations for debris that ends up in the ocean through storm drains.
The State Water Resources Control Board estimates that nearly 915,000 cigarette butts are dropped across Los Angeles County every month. In Manhattan Beach, some 20 storm water drains lead straight into the ocean.