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County regulates e-cigarettes

REGION — Out of concern for public health, the San Diego County Board of Supervisors passed new regulations on electronic smoking devices on Tuesday.

The Board’s action bans the use of electronic smoking devices, including e-cigarettes, anywhere conventional cigarettes cannot be smoked. Smoking cigarettes is prohibited around public buildings, parks and trails, restaurants, and smoke-free workplaces.

Eight cities in San Diego County, including Carlsbad, Encinitas, and Oceanside, have already enacted such regulations of e-cigarettes.

Electronic cigarettes are electronic or battery-operated devices that produce a flavored water vapor for inhalation. The vape liquid typically contains varying amounts of nicotine.

The devices are not yet regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the side effects of the vapor or secondhand vapor have yet to be determined.

But county officials, residents, and local cities have voiced concern over the safety of e-cigarettes.

The number of calls to poison centers about consumption of e-cigarette liquids that contain nicotine rose from one per month in September 2010 to 215 per month in February 2014, according to a study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

More than half of those calls involved children under five years old.

Citing the statistic, Supervisor Dave Roberts called e-cigarettes a “major public health concern.”

Opponents to the regulations asserted that residents are using e-cigarettes to quit smoking by gradually decreasing the amount of nicotine in the vaping liquid they inhale. They also claimed that the effects of secondhand vapor are harmless and that the vapor hardly smells.

The Supervisors acknowledged that the FDA has not made a final ruling on the health effects of e-cigarettes but asserted that there was enough available research to convince them of the risks of using the devices.

“I think we did our homework. We didn’t just blindly run into this just because some other city has done this,” said Supervisor Ron Roberts.

Supervisor Bill Horn stated that the County “may be getting ahead of the research,” but argued that policies prohibiting the smoking of e-cigarettes in public places were practical.

Supporters of the e-cigarette bans voiced concerns that the electronic smoking devices particularly appeal to youth.

E-cigarettes are a gateway to other drugs for young people, particularly high schoolers, according to Zack Jafek, a member of the San Dieguito Alliance for Drug Free Youth. A recent graduate of Torrey Pines High School, Jafek said for teenagers, there is not as much of a stigma around e-cigarettes as there is for conventional cigarettes.

Carol Skiljan, a commissioner of First 5 San Diego and board member of the Encinitas Union School District, mentioned that the flavored vape liquids target young consumers.

“They even had chocolate flavoring,” she said.

The Supervisors passed the new e-cigarette regulations unanimously.

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