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Long Beach Blues

The city council of Long Beach, California, has voted unanimously to extend its ban on vaping in public places by banning use of electronic cigarettes even in vape shops and vaping lounges.

The "speak-easies" of the vaping underground, vaping lounges have been proliferating all over the USA, even in some cities where vaping is not permitted in most public places. They are vape shops with areas where users can relax with their vaporizers, and socialize with other vapers, cementing solidarity with other like-minded e-cig users. They are fast becoming a new kind of public recreational space, and the similarity with the Prohibition Era is not at all amiss.

Southern California has been an area where their proliferation is particularly notable. But that will not be the case in Long Beach any more. James Demetra, proprietor of the shop Vapes of Wrath, and Adrian Adrineda, who distributes vaping equipment for On Deck Modz, note that individuals in the Long Beach vaping industry have been unusually circumspect in avoiding violations of commmunity norms, so that no such extraordinary regulation was warranted. Says Demetra: "As shop owners, we already do a lot of the regulation ourselves.... We're not selling to people under 18 and we're not vaping next to city hall or a playground." Adrineda states that "50 percent of liquid sold in South [Orange] County is zero milligrams." Adrineda opines that the city council was miseducated on vaping issues: "If you watch the city council meeting, some of the members said they don't have enough information to make a proper decision, but they decided to go with the original ordinance anyway." Aside from the question of lounges as such, any vape shop needs to be able to let potential customers try products.

And in the case of a novel kind of product that new users might not fully understand how to use, there is a need for instruction in the shop. "It's our job to show people how to properly use them," says Demetra. "You're dealing with batteries and heating elements and vape shops are crucial to teaching safety."

Reporter L. P. Hastings of the OC [Orange County] Weekly thinks that the stricter ordinance will also make it easier for underage customers to obtain e-cigs, since it will force vape shops to close, sending more kids online, where age vetting is not as thorough. In some other cities that have banned vaping in public places, vaping lounges are excluded from the ban, since they have the status of "tobacco oriented business" – a category that permits onsite vaping. New York City's Henley Vapoium, for instance, benefits from such a provision. But WOW E-Cigs in Chicago's Lincoln Square district has yet to receive city permission to allow its customers to try products in the store, although it's parent company has a thriving vape lounge in the northern suburbs. Hastings reports that Long Beach vape shops must apply for a categorization as "cigar lounges" if they are to allow in store vaping. Demetra is circulating a petition that locals may sign, in an effort to get the ordinance rescinded.