The Board of Supervisors voted 3-2 Tuesday to impose a one-year ban on the sale and distribution of all electronic smoking devices in unincorporated areas of San Diego County.
Along with the ban on devices, the county will also prohibit the sale and distribution of all flavored products for smoking, prohibit smoking in outdoor dining patio areas, and establish a buffer zone outside of outdoor dining patio areas.
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 were opposed.
The new policy will not apply to the tobacco used in hookahs.
County Chief Administrative Officer Helen N. Robbins-Meyer will return to the board within 60 days with more specifics on enacting the ban, along with a tobacco retail licensing program and targeted vaping public health awareness campaign. Jacob, board chairwoman, said recent reports about vaping- related illnesses and deaths justified the new rules.
Residents in favor of the ban cited the growing national health concerns over flavored vaping products.
P. Kay Coleman, an Encinitas resident and cancer survivor, said she grew up in a home “filed with smoke” and hated it. Coleman said she started smoking at age 16 and was diagnosed with cancer at 44.
“I have spent the last years of my life trying to be a citizen advocate,” she told the board. You all have the power to do something to stop this epidemic.
According to the county, there have been 19 confirmed deaths and more than 1,080 confirmed and probable vaping-associated pulmonary injury cases nationally. In San Diego County, there have been 22 confirmed and probable VAPI cases reported among county residents.
Those opposed — many of them vaping or tobacco-shop owners — said it was black-market tetrahydrocannabinol products that were the biggest problem, and vaping has helped many people quit smoking regular tobacco cigarettes. Some opponents said their businesses would be seriously harmed by such a ban.
Chris Hartjen, owner of the Vapor Trail store in Ramona, said he’s always followed the law when it comes to selling smoking products.
Hartjen added that as single father, he educates his daughter about vaping and agrees that there needs to be better enforcement. However, the health crisis has been caused by the black market, which will only increase if county enacts a ban, Hartjen said.
“This my livelihood,” Hartjen told the board. “I pay taxes, too.”
Fletcher said there “are clear dangers associated” with electronic cigarettes and vaping devices.
“The simple reality is people are getting sick, and people are dying,” Fletcher said. “We have an obligation to act in the interest of public health.”
Both Desmond and Gaspar criticized the ban as government overreach.
Gaspar said while she supports strong regulation when it comes to protecting children from smoking hazard, “this item misses the mark in favor of political grandstanding.”
The proposal, Gaspar added, also unfairly targets law-abiding business owners. Gaspar said young people Tuesday do everything on their phones, including buying e-cigarettes or marijuana products via apps like Snap Chat.
Desmond said that it’s already against the law for those under 21 to use vaping products, and the county enforcing and tightening existing laws rather than creating new ones.