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Los Angeles mandates porn stars wear condoms

By Alex Dobuzinskis

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Porn stars in Los Angeles will be legally required to wear condoms during film shoots after the city council voted on Tuesday to mandate their use, despite a threat by skin flick producers to leave town over the requirement.

The move comes amid persistent questions about how to enforce the health measure, which backers say will protect performers in the multibillion-dollar porn industry from contracting HIV and other diseases.

Producers complain the sight of a condom in a sex scene turns off consumers of their videos.

The Los Angeles City Council voted 9-1 on Tuesday to give final approval to the measure, proposed after the AIDS Healthcare Foundation qualified an initiative for the ballot that would have asked voters in June to mandate condoms at porn shoots as a condition of obtaining a film permit.

The city would have had to spend over $4 million to hold the election, and city officials said a decision to simply adopt the condom requirement allowed them to dodge that costly election.

The council gave preliminary approval to the measure last week, and its passage made the city the first in the nation to impose such a requirement. Most of the U.S. porn industry is based in Los Angeles.

The California Division of Occupational Safety and Health (Cal-OSHA) already requires porn performers to wear barriers, such as condoms, when they are in contact with bodily fluids.

But enforcement has been a challenge for the state. For one, the Cal-OSHA requirement is not specifically aimed at adult films, and it is openly violated within the industry, said Michael Weinstein, president of AIDS Healthcare. He has clashed with porn producers for years over the issue.

"I don't know of any other industry where people go out in public and say they're not going to follow the law," Weinstein, whose group provides care to AIDS patients, said last week.

WIDENING THE CAMPAIGN

City officials were still wrestling with how to enforce the condom mandate, which is set to go into effect in 90 days.

Paul Audley, president of FilmL.A., a nonprofit hired by the city to oversee television and film productions, said his office normally has Los Angeles police handle enforcement when problems arise with permitted shoots.

But Audley said last week that he has told city leaders he believes workers with health licenses would be best able to make sure adult film performers use condoms. He said his office and representatives from Cal-OSHA would soon meet to discuss how the new city mandate should be enforced. "No one's answered that question yet," he said.

Weinstein said, "We think it makes the most sense to job out this responsibility to an outside agency, like a nursing agency."

FilmL.A. hands out under 500 permits a year for adult movie shoots, Audley said. But some estimates put the number of adult films shot in the Los Angeles region at 50,000 a year, he said.

Not all productions need a permit -- such as those taking place in a soundstage -- and some shoots are done illegally. "We really don't have a way to tell where they may be filming illegally somewhere," Audley said.

Now that it has succeeded in having the City Council adopt the condom measure, AIDS Healthcare is widening its campaign by pushing for a November ballot initiative that would force porn producers to obtain a public health permit from Los Angeles County officials. The permit is similar to what barber shops must receive, said Ged Kenslea, a spokesman for AIDS Healthcare.

If that county measure passes, it would increase the burden on porn producers to follow state law and use condoms on sets, Kenslea said. It would also stop producers within Los Angeles city limits, including porn hub the San Fernando Valley, from moving shop to neighboring communities to avoid using condoms, Weinstein said.

Porn producers have been critical of the condom mandate.

Steven Hirsch, the co-chairman and founder of adult film company Vivid Entertainment, said his company has a "condom-optional" policy and leaves it up to performers.

"Consumers have said overwhelmingly that they would prefer to watch movies without condoms," Hirsch said last week.

While over 80 percent of the U.S. porn industry is based in Los Angeles, where performers are regularly tested for sexually transmitted diseases, productions could move to other states or countries due to the condom mandate, he said.

(Reporting By Alex Dobuzinskis)

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