Controlled by the County
By Alex Distefano
E-cigarettes are certainly becoming a trend. Use among professionals, former smokers and the younger hip crowd has increased; everywhere you look people are using them. But, after the New Year, you won’t be seeing anyone using a portable vaporizer in San Bernardino, at least on or near facilities owned by the county. Earlier this month, the San Bernardino County Board of Supervisors voted for an ordinance that would ban e-cigarettes from being used at all county run and operated facilities as well as many other private and publicly owned businesses.
According to San Bernardino County spokesperson, David Wert, new county ordinance, will take effect on Jan. 2. He told the San Bernardino Sun that when in effect, the ordinance will prohibit e-cigarette use in all county buildings, which includes all public transit waiting and boarding areas, all sports complexes owned by the county and all vehicles owned or leased by the county. Further, the ordinance states that e-cigarettes will also be banned within 20 feet of all of county buildings, including, operable windows and ventilation ducts and exits and entrances.
San Bernardino’s latest local law is just one of many, in a pattern of anti E-cigarette sentiment going around at the local, state and even national level. The New York City Council recently met to discuss a proposal to ban of the devices in public places within city limits. Similar bans are being discussed, have gone into effect or will go into effect in cities such as Chicago, Oklahoma City, San Diego and Los Angeles, while ordinances limiting the use e-cigarettes were passed in Riverside, and up north in Richmond, near the Bay Area.
This has fueled a debate between proponents of e-cigarettes, who claim they are a healthier alternative to traditional cigarettes, and opponents, who cite studies that suggest different. E-cigarettes are battery-powered devices that do not contain tobacco. Users inhale liquid nicotine with other flavorings often added, that is heated up to the point of vaporization. This process has virtually eliminated second hand smoke as a by-product.
Another reason municipalities are against e-cigarettes, they claim, is the rising number of underage users. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, a report released in September, highlights a study that revealed percentage of middle school and high school students using e-cigarettes more than doubled from 2011 to 2012, from 4.7 percent to 10 percent. The US Food and Drug Administration have even discussed limits and a possible ban on the sale of e-cigarettes online. Currently, the devices are available in smoke shops and retailers that sell tobacco products, and are legal to anyone over the age of 18.
But in San Bernardino, Wert told the SB Sun that the county’s decision to pass the ordinance decision was not based on what other municipalities have been doing. “The county did not consider whether other local government agencies are regulating e-cigarettes or who plans to do it in the future,” Wert said in an email. “It simply looked at the information available on the subject and relied on the expertise of the county’s public health professionals and took what it believes is a positive step toward protecting the health of the county’s residents,” he said.
Felisa Cardona, also a spokesperson for San Bernardino County told the Weekly that smoking regular cigarettes is already banned at County facilities and buildings. “You can’t smoke at any county building, and if you smoke, you have to be at least 20 feet away from the building,” she said. She assured that this ordinance is not an attempt to ban e-cigarettes in all public or private places. “This was just really for county facilities,” she said. “Until that ordinance takes effect we don’t have the legal authority to fine anyone using an e-cigarette. We cannot impose any fines or fees or anyone until it takes effect,” Cardona told the Weekly. What the penalties or fines would be once the ordinance passes is unknown at this time.
UPDATE [as of 12/12/2013 3:54pm]
After this issue went to press, the County of San Bernardino elaborated on the new ordinance, stating that “Electronic cigarettes are also banned in all businesses in unincorporated areas of the county, like Mentone, for example,” according to the Deputy Public Information Officer. There are few exceptions to the ban.