Two California cities have voted to ban electronic cigarettes in public places, and Los Angeles on Wednesday moved to prohibit their sale to minors.
The Richmond and Carlsbad city councils voted Tuesday to prohibit the battery-powered nicotine inhalers from parks, restaurants and other places where cigarettes are banned.
The Los Angeles council voted unanimously to regulate e-cigarettes and other nicotine-laced products in the same manner as tobacco products, which cannot be sold to minors, on the street or from mobile vendors such as ice cream trucks or food carts.
If the mayor signs the new law, merchants also would need to obtain a license to sell the devices, which vaporize liquid nicotine for inhalation.
E-cigarette producers argue that the devices can wean smokers from cigarettes and are healthier because they don't create cigarette tars or secondhand tobacco smoke.
Critics, however, say they still contain dangerous chemicals and are marketed to youngsters by including flavors such as fruits, candy and bubble gum.
That is a "very sinister approach to a very sinister product," L.A. City Councilman Mitch O'Farrell said.
Though the health risks of e-cigarettes are still being studied, the liquids used in the devices contain more than two dozen chemicals that are on a federal list of harmful or potentially harmful substances, Jonathan Fielding, director of the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health, told the council.
More than 40 cities across California have taken steps to regulate sales or use of e-cigarettes.
Electronic cigarette sales surged from about 50,000 in 2008 to 3.5 million in 2012, and the number of children who reported trying the product has increased, according to a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report. E-cigarettes are not regulated by the federal Food and Drug Administration agency.
The ban in Carlsbad, a suburb about 20 miles north of San Diego, covers all places where smoking is banned, including parks, beaches and restaurants with outdoor dining, according to UT San Diego.
In Richmond, which is near Oakland, those who violate the new law can be fined up to $1,000, according to the Contra Costa Times.