Health & Medicine

Morro Bay moves to ban e-cigarette and vape sales, impose stricter smoking laws

Morro Bay is moving to ban sales of vaping and e-cigarette products, joining Arroyo Grande as the second San Luis Obispo County city to consider a sales prohibition.

The majority of the Morro Bay Council supported agendizing an ordinance as soon as possible, citing widespread health impacts and prevalent vaping among local youth.

More than 800 cases of lung illnesses relating to vaping have been reported in hospitals, health clinics and emergency rooms nationwide, including 12 deaths, a city staff report noted.

“I’m significantly concerned about impacts of smoking and vaping,” Morro Bay Mayor John Headding said. “I’ve spoken with (local school officials) and they are very concerned about the proliferation of vaping among our youth. As a pharmacologist, I’m aware that nicotine is much more addicting than even heroin or cocaine.”

Vaping refers to the practice of inhaling aerosol from an e-cigarette or other devices “that heats a liquid that can contain nicotine, marijuana (THC), cannabidiol (CBD) or other substances,” according to city officials.

The council will need to formally adopt its ordinance, which it plans to initiate at a November meeting. The council also supported a measure to block online vape sales in Morro Bay as part of its planned overall policy.

Customers smoke e-cigarettes at Beyond Vape, a store in New York on April 16, 2015. Morro Bay is moving forward with a plan to ban e-cigarette and vape sales. Michael Appleton The New York Times

Health concerns for youth, students

Arroyo Grande still needs to consider a staff report, which is expected at its last meeting in October, and then decide if it wants to agendize an ordinance prohibiting the sale of vaping products.

Four of the five Morro Bay council members agreed that banning sales of e-cigarette and vaping products, which currently occurs at 19 city stores, is an urgent matter.

About 18% of Morro Bay High School ninth-grade students and 22% of 11th-graders used vaping products at least once over the past month, according to a 2018 California Healthy Kids Survey.

Council member Marlys McPherson said that, while she agrees vaping is harmful for youths and should be addressed, more input is needed from the community before proceeding with drastic regulatory measures.

“I think we need to get way more citizen involvement on this issue before implementing draconian policy,” McPherson said. “My concern is underage kids. Let’s keep smoking products out of their hands. Adults have a choice.”

SLO, San Francisco look at vaping bans

The Morro Bay council has the option to wait until a pending determination on approval of sale of vaping products by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), or to connect its policy to the FDA’s decision.

President Donald Trump announced in September that the FDA will move to “force e-cigarette companies to take flavored vaping products off the market, as young people’s use of them continues to rise and reports emerge of deaths and illnesses tied to vaping,” according to an NPR story.

“(The city of) San Francisco recently passed a new ordinance that limits the ability of tobacco retailers to sell certain products which have not been approved by the federal Food and Drug Administration,” a Morro Bay staff report stated. “The (San Francisco) ordinance prohibits the sale of new tobacco products or electronic cigarettes until they have been approved by the FDA.”

But the majority of the Morro Bay council stated they would not like to wait until FDA action to address an important health concern.

“I’m extremely frustrated with the nicotine industry that we have to deal with this,” Councilwoman Dawn Addis said. “This is an incredible problem.”

“I am sensitive to local business needs and cigar smokers, but we don’t have time to wait,” she said. “Our kids don’t have time to wait. Let’s not draw this out too long. Let’s be good partners to the school district and leaders to the local residents.”

Other cities in the county that have considered addressing vaping policy include San Luis Obispo, though no specific laws have been passed yet pending further review and discussion.

At a recent San Luis Obispo Council meeting, several students and medical industry workers lobbied for the city to address vaping regulations during the public comment period, citing prevalent teen use and peer pressure.

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The Morro Bay City Council is looking at changes to its tobacco ordinance. Mark Lennihan AP

Morro Bay to consider other tobacco policy changes

Other policy measures the city will address as part of its tobacco ordinance will include:

Possibly requiring that all tobacco retailers, including e-cigarette retailers, obtain a tobacco retailer’s license from the city, valid for one year and requiring annual renewal

Establishing non-smoking areas in multifamily units, including prohibitions on smoking in apartments and non-smoking common areas.

Juul vaping products for sale at the Log Cabin Market in Arroyo Grande. David Middlecamp

The tobacco licensing would require retailers to pay an annual fee covering administration and enforcement efforts, including compliance checks.

If Morro Bay adopts these measures, city officials expect its grade of “D” for its anti-smoking efforts, assessed in late 2018 from the American Lung Association, to improve to an “A.”

San Luis Obispo has been referred to as one of the toughest cities on smoking for its ban in 1990 on smoking in all indoor public places, leading other cities worldwide to do the same.

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Nick Wilson covers the city of San Luis Obispo and has been a reporter at The Tribune in San Luis Obispo since 2004. He also writes regularly about K-12 education, Cal Poly, Morro Bay and Los Osos. He is a graduate of UC Santa Barbara and UC Berkeley and is originally from Ojai.