By Kristina Houck
Del Mar is the latest city in San Diego County to ban electronic cigarettes.
In a unanimous vote, the Del Mar City Council on April 7 amended the city’s existing smoking ordinance to ban the use of e-cigarettes in all public places where smoking is prohibited.
“We’re just really excited about you extending the language or description of tobacco products to include e-cigarettes and vape pens,” said Judi Strang, executive director of San Dieguito Alliance for Drug Free Youth. “You’re part of a vanguard of cities.”
E-cigarettes are battery-powered devices that simulate tobacco smoking, but do not contain tobacco. Users inhale vaporized liquid that may or may not contain nicotine and can include a variety of flavors.
Supporters argue e-cigarettes are less harmful than tobacco cigarettes, while critics contend they encourage use by young people.
Although the actual health risks are a subject of debate, the American Lung Association has called for regulation of these devices to protect public health, citing two initial studies that show e-cigarettes emit chemicals such as formaldehyde, benzene and tobacco-specific nitrosamines.
A recent study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found an increase in e-cigarette-related calls to poison centers, noted Barbara Gordon, who is also with the San Dieguito Alliance for Drug Free Youth, during the meeting.
According to the study, the number of calls to poison centers involving e-cigarette liquids containing nicotine increased from one per month in September 2010 to 215 per month in February 2014. More than half of the calls to poison centers due to e-cigarettes involved children under age 5, and about 42 percent of the poison calls involved people age 20 and older.
The study found the number of calls per month involving conventional cigarettes did not show a similar increase during the same time period.
“This study must serve as a wake up call, not just to parents to keep the e-cigarette liquid out of the hands of children, but also to adult users to take extreme precaution when coming into contact with this e-liquid,” said Gordon, who also serves as vice chair of the Tobacco Control Coalition of San Diego County.
“We’re not here to prohibit e-cigarettes, but to prohibit their use anywhere you cannot smoke a traditional tobacco product. By regulating where e-cigarettes can be smoked, you are sending a message that you care about the health of all residents.”
Current state law prohibits e-cigarette sales to minors but does not regulate where the devices can be used. Del Mar is the latest city in San Diego County to ban e-cigarettes in public places.
Carlsbad, Encinitas, Oceanside, Poway, Solana Beach and Vista have also passed similar regulations. El Cajon, La Mesa, Lemon Grove and San Diego are currently developing new regulations or policies.
“In some ways, these are much more dangerous to the user than they are to bystanders who don’t get second-hand smoke. They’re also dangerous to kids,” said Councilman Don Mosier. “I think to the extent that we can discourage use of e-cigarettes — that’s important policy objective of the city.
“This is just the beginning. I think as we learn more about e-cigarettes, we may have some more special requirements for regulation.”