Don’t be surprised to soon learn that the sale of  tobacco and vaping products in Pasadena is illegal.

The question of whether that was possible was raised by outgoing City Councilwoman Margaret McAustin Monday night at a joint meeting of the council and the Pasadena Board of Education that touched on a range of issues on which the interests of the city and schools intersect, one being the sale of flavored smoking devices and mentholated cigarettes and their use by children. 

In the end, the council unanimously approved updating the city’s Municipal Code to prohibit the sale and distribution of menthol cigarettes and/or other flavored tobacco products and tobacco look-alike products within city limits, including flavored products for electronic smoking devices such as liquids, as well as flavored small cigars and tobacco look-alike products. 

The vote was followed by approval of a 23-item anti-smoking resolution by a show of hands by school board members, who were wedged between the seven council members siting around the council’s horseshoe dais during an hours–long joint meeting, which opened with the discussion on vaping and tobacco use by youngsters.

Last year, eight states — Massachusetts, Rhode Island and Washington, Michigan, Oregon, New York and Utah — issued emergency rules to temporarily ban the sale of flavored e-cigarettes, according to the Washington, DC-based Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids. These rules have faced legal challenge but are currently still in effect in only Massachusetts, Rhode Island and Washington.

At the local level, 250 cities, counties, towns and other localities have restricted the sale of flavored tobacco products. At least 80 of those communities — 56 in California alone and another 168 in Massachusetts — also restrict the sale of menthol cigarettes in addition to flavored tobacco products.

Neither action taken by the council or the school board applies to cannabis products that are flavored.

”It’s a pretty straightforward issue; we know that e-cigarettes and vaping products are not safe,” said city Health Officer Dr. Ying-Ying Goh. 

Goh pointed out that 2,668 people were hospitalized due to lung injuries caused by e-cigarette use, and 60 people in the United States have died from this condition, known as E-cigarette/Vaping Associated Lung Injury, or EVALI.

According to the California Department of Public Health, 80 percent of teenagers interviewed said their first use of  tobacco was with a flavored product. Further, 95 percent of African American teens 12 to 17 years old who smoked cigarettes in the past 30 days smoked menthols.

“Our own US Surgeon General, (Vice) Admiral Jerome Adams, has said in an advisory in December 2018 that any e-cigarette use and vaping by youth is unsafe and that the recent surge in e-cigarette use by youth is a cause for great concern,” Goh said. Quoting Adams, “We must take action to protect the health of our nation’s young people,” Goh said.

After hearing the proposal, Councilman Andy Wilson said that a $500 fine for a second offense was too low and should be raised. Councilman Tyron Hampton said the violation should be elevated to misdemeanor, which would mean higher fines and possible jail time for offenders.

But McAustin, who is leaving the council this year after three terms in office, asked simply, “Why are we still allowing the sale of tobacco at all in the city?” 

Turning to City Attorney Michele Beal Bagneris, McAustin asked, “Do we have the ability to just ban the retail sales of any tobacco product at all within the city limits?”

Bagneris pointed out that Monday’s agenda item addresses a more focused area of the smoking issue. However, she said, “If you wanted to broaden that, I would recommend that you return (to the council). There are state provisions that indicate cities can do more in terms of regulation and prohibition than what is set forth in state codes, … I was just given a note that Beverly Hills has done that.”

“I think this is where we are headed as a city and as a country,” McAustin responded. “I would like staff to come back with an evaluation of our ability to basically eliminate the sale of tobacco products within the city. I don’t see why we shouldn’t and it is consistent with so many of our other public health (initiatives). I think it’s time we look at that. 

“We have always been forward thinking on a lot of these things and I think we should see if we should take that next step,” McAustin said.