Richmond Takes Step Toward Ban of E-Cigarettes
Richmond Moves Toward E-Cigarette Ban
Critic likens it to Quarter-Pounder ban
By Catherine Ho - San Francisco Chronicle
Officials in Richmond on Tuesday advanced legislation banning the sale of e-cigarettes in city stores, becoming the third Bay Area city since June to move toward outlawing the nicotine products in an attempt to reduce teen vaping.
The Richmond City Council voted to pass the measure — the first of two votes that must take place to approve an ordinance. Measures that are passed in the first vote are likely to get final approval at the second vote, which is scheduled to take place Sept. 10. If approved, it would go into effect in January.
But the policy drew criticism from two of the city’s seven council members — one who voted against the measure, and one who abstained. They questioned the logic behind banning e-cigarettes but not regular cigarettes, cigars or marijuana, and said it was not the city’s job to police whether adults can buy the products.
“You can name a whole lot of vices,” said Councilman Jael Myrick, who abstained from voting. “There are some that are socially acceptable and some that are not. I’m more likely to die from my addiction to McDonald’s and sweets than I am from anything else. But if someone were to suggest we ban the Quarter Pounder, I don’t think it would get much traction. ... I don’t think it’s our role to be limiting adults what they have access to.”
The ordinance was drafted by Mayor Tom Butt, and is similar to legislation recently passed in San Francisco and Livermore. It would prohibit brick-and-mortar stores in Richmond from selling e-cigarettes until the U.S. Food and Drug Administration conducts a safety review of the products; the agency has yet to do so for any e-cigarettes currently on the market. Richmond, like more than 30 other California cities and counties, already prohibits the sale of flavored tobacco products like the fruity and candy-flavored vapes that have made e-cigarettes popular among teens.
Juul, the San Francisco vaping company that has an estimated 70% of market share in the United States, is pushing for a ballot measure that would overturn San Francisco’s recent e-cigarette ban and replace it with regulations the company is proposing. The measure, which goes before voters in November, would allow Juul and other vaping firms to continue selling e-cigarettes in the city with some new regulations including prohibitions on bulk sales and additional age-verification technology at retail stores. Juul is also backing a referendum in Livermore to block an e-cigarette ban the city just approved. The company called the Richmond proposal “misguided.”
“We believe that strict regulation and enforcement aimed directly at the drivers of underage use is more effective than a ban for all adults that will fuel a black market for vapor products and the increased use of deadly cigarettes,” Juul spokesman Ted Kwong said in a statement. “As a result, we will continue to monitor this similarly misguided effort in Richmond and preserve all options to prevent increased cigarette use.”
Based on estimates from state health data, Butt said at least 300 to 400 youth in Richmond are likely vaping at school.
“Two cities have already done this, so we’d be the third,” Butt said. “It’s clearly a problem, one that’s growing really fast.”
An estimated 1 in 5 high school students and 1 in 20 middle school students in the United States use e-cigarettes, according to 2018 figures from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. E-cigarette use among high schoolers jumped 78% from 12% in 2017 to 21% in 2018, prompting alarm among public health officials who worry children are getting addicted to nicotine at an age when they are more susceptible to becoming hooked on the products for life.
E-cigarettes, which heat up liquid nicotine to a vapor, are considered less harmful than regular cigarettes because they do not contain as many combustible toxins. But a growing number of studies suggest that chemicals and flavorings in e-cigarettes may harm the body’s respiratory system and cells.
Several Richmond residents spoke at the meeting, with most opposing the proposed e-cigarette ban. Some were adults who said they would simply go to neighboring El Cerrito or San Pablo to buy the products if stores in Richmond could no longer sell them.
Catherine Ho is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer. Email: Twitter: @Cat_Ho