Created: Tue, 05 Nov 2013 08:31:00 PST
Updated: Tue, 05 Nov 2013 10:55:54 PST
SAN DIEGO - The San Diego County Board of Supervisors voted Tuesday to direct staffers to look into regulating electronic cigarette use under the county's anti-tobacco policy.
"E-cigarettes," or vapor inhalers, allow users to puff on synthetic nicotine without also inhaling tar and some other harmful substances common to regular cigarettes. The battery-operated devices, which can be purchased online and in smoke shops, do not use tobacco.
In a letter to their colleagues, Supervisors Dave Roberts and Ron Roberts wrote that use of the devices could undermine county smoking regulations and undermine efforts to make smoking no longer acceptable in public places or at work.
They cited a U.S. Centers for Disease Control study that found the use of e-cigarettes among middle and high school students had doubled between 2011 and last year, and that 1.78 million of them have tried the devices. Use of the inhalers might lead youth to try conventional tobacco products, they said.
County staffers were given 90 days to study the devices and the current policy and make recommendations, following the 4-1 vote.
"We don't need our children or youth to see adults appear to be smoking around our county facilities," Supervisor Dave Roberts said. "I'm worried about the perception of traditional cigarettes and e-cigarettes and how they'll dramatically change and undermine all the efforts we've put into prevention and anti-smoking in our region."
Supervisor Bill Horn, who cast the the sole dissenting vote, called the measure "over-regulation" and "micromanaging."
"There is no evidence that younger people are moving to tobacco with e-cigarettes -- it's not there," Horn said.
Fabiola Elias-Ramsey, who owns two stores that sell the devices, said the idea that e-cigarettes are a gateway for youth to traditional cigarettes was "erroneous," and adults using the devices in public places could inspire traditional cigarette smokers to switch and take control of their health.
"The best thing we can do for our children is to show them that as adults, we can take responsibility for improving our own health and not expose them to the very real and harmful risks of smoking," she said.
Other store owners, like Barry Herzberg of VapeQuality in Pacific Beach, say the devices are a powerful tool to quit smoking. Herzberg said he used a fruit-flavored device to quit cigarettes, and now puffs on an e-cigarette with no nicotine.
But County Public Health Officer Dr. Wilma Wooten says right now the marketing is ahead of the science when it comes to using e-cigarettes as a quitting tool.
"I think because we don't know all the contents of these devices, the jury is out on whether it can be used as a smoking cessation device," she said.
The vast majority of e-cigarettes contain nicotine, which can cause adverse health affects like elevated blood pressure and heart disease, according to Dr. John Pierce of the University of California, San Diego Moores Cancer Center.
Pierce says research on the health effects of e-cigarettes is limited, but he points to study by the Food and Drug Administration which found "detectable levels" of carcinogens in a small sample of e-cigarettes.
"It's no where near the level of someone who's smoking two packs a day, but again, where's safe? We don't know where safe is at the moment," he said.
Supervisor Ron Roberts said that staffers should "continue examining the research, so we can define the parameters before we fully decide where people can use and not use these devices in the public arena."
"These things were not on the radar screen when we developed our policy," he said. "They raise a whole host of new issues."
The city of Vista has banned the use of e-cigarettes in public areas where smoking is prohibited, and the Sweetwater Union High School District has added vapor devices to its smoking policy.