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County Supervisors Approve Ban On Vaping Products In San Diego’s Unincorporated Areas

A man exhales while smoking an e-cigarette.

Photo by Robert F. Bukaty AP

Above: A man exhales while smoking an e-cigarette.

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Supervisors voted 3-2 to prohibit flavored nicotine sales and impose a one-year ban on the sale and distribution of all electronic smoking devices within unincorporated areas of San Diego County.

Aired: October 16, 2019 | Transcript

The San Diego County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday voted 3-2 to ban vaping product sales in unincorporated areas. The measure puts a one-year moratorium on the sale of vaping devices and permanently bars flavored nicotine.

The move comes amid growing rates of teens vaping and hundreds of vaping-related lung illnesses across the U.S. — including more than two dozen deaths. Health officials reported at least 25 confirmed or probable cases in San Diego County.

The board's decision came after a lengthy and sometimes emotional public hearing. Supervisors Greg Cox, Nathan Fletcher and Dianne Jacob voted in favor of the ban, while their colleagues Jim Desmond and Kristin Gaspar opposed. The county's chief administrative officer will return to the board within 60 days with more specifics on how the county will enact the ban.

Public health advocates, researchers and some youth showed up to applaud the move and talked about the grip vaping products have on some teens. One college student said he'd witnessed peers go hungry to save up money to feed their nicotine addiction. Others pointed out that other flavored nicotine products, including menthol cigarettes and sweetened cigars, are not covered by the ban.

It is unclear how the final policy will apply to those items as well as the flavored e-liquids, but more specifics are expected when supervisors do a full review of the ordinance language.

Those opposed to the measure questioned whether the restrictions will do anything to improve public health. They pointed out that black market tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) products appear to have caused most of the vaping-related illnesses and that vaping has helped many people quit smoking regular tobacco cigarettes. Some merchants who sell vaping products said their businesses would be seriously harmed by the ban.

However, the opponents said they do support stronger regulations for shops that illegally sell to underage minors and providing more education about the impact of vaping.

Federal health agencies said most sickened from vaping reported using THC-containing devices, many of which were purchased from illicit sources. However, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said a small group of patients reported exclusively vaping nicotine and therefore the substance is still part of the investigation.

The CDC advises against vaping all substances but both the agency and the Food and Drug Administration have emphasized the dangers of THC-containing devices and unregulated products of any sort. While Marijuana use is legal in California, it is still against federal law.

San Diego County Public Health Officer Dr. Wilma Wooten reiterated this information in a presentation to the supervisors and stated her support for the proposal introduced by Fletcher and Jacob.

“Because we do not know the actual cause of this outbreak, putting a ban—and this is a temporary ban of one year—on these products is warranted until we find out more information and the FDA has approved e-cigarette use in general,” Dr. Wooten said.

The FDA has regulatory authority over electronic nicotine delivery systems, or e-cigarettes, but Acting Commissioner Ned Sharpless said in a recent online post that its "policies and procedures in this area are still evolving."

The policy proposed by Fletcher and Jacob includes a vaping public health awareness campaign, a tobacco retail licensing program and enhanced enforcement of laws that restrict the purchase of tobacco products to 21 years of age or older. It also outlaws smoking in outdoor dining areas and buffer zones to address second-hand smoke.

At the meeting, Jacob added county parking lots to that list, suggesting it be discussed with county employee bargaining units. She also proposed a carve-out for hookah vendors after testimony from industry representatives.

Fletcher seconded the amendments and supported moving forward despite concerns from local retailers.

"Folks are in business to feed your families and take care of your kids, I get that," Fletcher said. "But that’s a motive that’s profit. We have an obligation that’s different than that. We have an obligation to do what we can to protect public health."

He added that the one-year ban on vaping devices will allow time for officials to develop proper regulations with industry input and could result in the moratorium lifting earlier.

Gaspar said she opposed the measure because it “misses the mark in favor of political grandstanding.” She said she supports prevention programs and strong regulation to address youth usage, but said the proposed item from Jacob and Fletcher affected adult users and overlooked online sources that sell to kids.

“While I’m sure there are still kids out there who go to a store corner that does not have a thorough ID check, most kids go on their phones," Gaspar said.

Desmond, who cast the other no vote, said a ban would encourage black market purchases, which has been linked to the lung illness outbreak. He favors better enforcement of existing laws against sales to minors over adding regulations that "burden law-abiding businesses."

Supervisor Greg Cox said he agreed with Gaspar and Desmond's comments but supported the ban because the public health crisis required action.

Listen to this story by Tarryn Mento.

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