San Diego Committee Considers Loosening Tobacco Restrictions, Adding E-Cigarette Rules

Tuesday, June 9, 2015
By Megan Burks

The city of San Diego's Public Safety Committee is scheduled to vote Wednesday on a new tobacco ordinance.

It would lift a 1,000-foot buffer zone around schools, playgrounds and other youth-oriented facilities that prohibits retailers from selling tobacco products. It would also strike advertising regulations within the buffer zone and a requirement that cigarette ads be in black and white.

Last summer the National Association of Tobacco Outlets sent a letter to the city pointing out that the rules were likely unconstitutional. The U.S. Supreme Court struck down similar rules in Massachusetts in 2001, saying they violated commercial speech protections.

But the amended ordinance would bring e-cigarettes and vaping accessories under city regulation for the first time.

Debra Kelley, advocacy director for of the American Lung Association in San Diego, said e-cigarettes would join their paper predecessors behind the counter, away from candy and juice.

"You don't want to give the message to kids that e-cigarettes flavored with gummy bears are the same as candy gummy bears," Kelley said.

Kelley said health advocates are concerned about rising rates of e-cigarette use among youth. The Centers for Disease Control say hookah and e-cigarettes have halted a two-decade old downward trend in tobacco use among teens.

The city is also one-upping state regulation by requiring consumers be 18 or older to buy e-cigarette accessories that don't contain nicotine. State law only puts age limits on products containing nicotine.

Under the proposed ordinance, retailers would have to post signs to that effect and card customers who look younger than 27. It would also outlaw e-cigarette vending machines and limit promotional giveaways to vape shops and lounges where you have to be 18 to get in.