The Los Angeles City Council Wednesday will consider requesting that the City Attorney draft an ordinance to prohibit flavored tobacco sales in an effort to stop tobacco companies from targeting children.

If passed, the motion would request an ordinance that exempts “smokers lounges” and menthol tobacco sold at adult-only tobacco shops, as requested by Councilman Mitch O’Farrell, who initiated the ordinance request in a November 2018 motion.

Smokers lounges that are specially permitted by the City Attorney’s Tobacco Enforcement Program and are limited to people 21 and older and for on- site consumption only would be exempt under the ordinance if requested by City Council in the motion Wednesday.

The City Attorney’s Office, which opposes the exemptions, said it believes the “smokers’ lounge” exemption includes hookah lounges, but the National Hookah Community Association worries that the ordinance will not apply to them.

“Our general understanding is that there is no such thing defined in state law as a ‘hookah lounge,’ only a license for a ‘smokers lounge’ that would be required to operate a hookah lounge where people are smoking on premises or a cigar bar where people smoke on premises.”

The National Hookah Community Association on Tuesday held a news conference outside of City Hall to request that hookah is specifically exempt from the ordinance. Hrant Vartzbedian of the National Hookah Community Association told City News Service, “What we’re asking for is an exemption of the hookah tobacco, which is called Shisha, from the (ordinance).”

Arnie Abramyan, president of the National Hookah Community Association, called into Tuesday’s City Council meeting to urge council members to exempt hookah from the potential ordinance.

“Many small immigrant business owners — Armenian, Lebanese, Persian, Egyptian, all the Middle Easterners — over 1,000 households will be out of business … Respect our culture and respect our small immigrant businesses,” he said.

The exemption of menthol tobacco was opposed by the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network, which released a statement following the proposal in 2019, saying the actions didn’t go fare enough to protect people.

Los Angeles City Attorney Mike Feuer told council members in a letter Tuesday that he opposes any exemption in the ordinance, including for menthol tobacco and hookah lounges, saying it would “perpetuate disparities in tobacco addiction and diminish the efficacy of the ban.”

“A comprehensive ban should include hookah flavored products, which are often targeted to youth and disproportionately impact communities of color,” he said. He added that menthol products have been targeted to Black people in the U.S., and that smoking-related illnesses claim the lives of 45,000 African-Americans each year.

O’Farrell said he and his colleagues “understand the cultural importance of hookah businesses, which is why I’ve met with dozens of stakeholders on this issue, and have worked to craft a thoughtful policy that better protects youth from harm while clearly acknowledging the cultural importance of these small businesses.”

“It is imperative that we act first and foremost in the interest of safety — especially for young Angelenos, so we put them on a path of wellness in their lives and protect them from the well-documented dangers of tobacco,” O’Farrell said. “At the same time, I am confident we can take a balanced approach and still respect the culture and livelihoods of small businesses across the city. That has been my goal all along, and I look forward to joining my colleagues for this discussion.”

The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors voted unanimously in October 2019 to adopt an ordinance banning flavored tobacco products, including menthol, and to call on Gov. Gavin Newsom to pass a statewide ban on vaping.

On Aug. 28, California became the second state in the nation to pass statewide restrictions on the sale of flavored tobacco products. Tobacco manufacturers and retailers have challenged many of the laws and ordinances, but, in every instance so far, courts have upheld restrictions on the sale of flavored tobacco products, finding them constitutional and in line with the Tobacco Control Act.

Tobacco use is the number-one preventable killer in the United States, resulting in more deaths than the number of people who die from alcohol, AIDS, car accidents, illegal drugs, murder, and suicides — combined.

Every day, thousands of young people will use a tobacco product for the first time, and many of those tobacco products will be flavored. In California alone, 36.5% of high school students report using tobacco products. Of those, 86.4% reporting using a flavored product, according to the California Attorney General’s Office, which filed a brief in the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in support of Los Angeles County’s ordinance banning the sale of flavored tobacco products.

The Los Angeles City Council’s motion Wednesday would also require all businesses that sell tobacco products to check IDs with scanners.

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