The San Diego County Board of Supervisors Tuesday voted to direct staffers to look into regulating electronic cigarette use under the county's anti-tobacco policy.
"Ecigarettes," 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 ecigarettes 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 ecigarettes 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 ecigarettes -- it's not there," Horn said.
Fabiola Elias-Ramsey, who owns two stores that sell the devices, said the idea that ecigarettes 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.
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 ecigarettes in public areas where smoking is prohibited, and the Sweetwater Union High School District has added vapor devices to its smoking policy.
Also at Tuesday's meeting, the supervisors directed staffers to begin looking for a site for a future Palomar Mountain Fire Station that would replace the existing one on Crestline Road, which they said lacked adequate living facilities and storage space for use by the Palomar Mountain Volunteer Fire Company.
-City News Service