In an effort to curb what's been declared an epidemic of vaping among young people in the area, the Menlo Park City Council voted unanimously on Dec. 17 to adopt an ordinance banning the sale of vaping devices and flavored tobacco citywide, effective Jan. 17.
Across San Mateo County, electronic cigarette use among high school students was reported by the California Student Tobacco Survey to be 20.8%, nearly twice the statewide prevalence of 10.9%.
Furthermore, about 86% of teens who do use tobacco products use flavored ones, and more than 80% of them who use tobacco start with flavored tobacco, according to national research cited in the city ordinance.
Similar bans were approved in early November by supervisors of San Mateo and Santa Clara counties to cover unincorporated county areas, and the Palo Alto City Council on Dec. 9 directed staff to prepare an ordinance that would ban vaping device sales in that city.
The ban also aligns with a Nov. 19 recommendation by the American Medical Association calling for a ban on all e-cigarette and vaping products that have not been approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Tobacco product sales have been limited to those 21 and older across California since 2016, and Congress voted on Dec. 19 to restrict tobacco product sales, including e-cigarettes, to those 21 and older nationwide, restrictions likely to be put in place later this year. The president is expected to sign the bill into law, according to several national news publications.
The ordinance will also allow the city manager and code enforcement officer to withdraw permits for tobacco retail operations if the ordinance is violated, and to prohibit vendors from offering free samples or coupons related to tobacco products, selling tobacco product samples out of their packages, and using self-service displays for tobacco product sales. It also clarifies that the ban is not only on selling, but also on distributing flavored tobacco and vape devices.
To alert retailers about the change in policy, county workers will inform them about the ordinance, and volunteers trained by the county will visit existing tobacco retailers and ask them to remove flavored tobacco and e-cigarette products from their shelves.
The ban also imposes additional restrictions on tobacco products and broadens the city's definition of what constitutes secondhand smoke to include "secondhand aerosol emitted from electronic cigarettes."
The City Council on Dec. 10 asked that the city look into zoning changes to ban smoke shops and hookah lounges from operating in Menlo Park, a step that will require a review and public hearing at the Planning Commission level.
While voting for the ordinance on Dec. 17, Councilman Ray Mueller added that he is interested in creating a "narrowly tailored exception" in which electronic cigarettes could be sold under medical supervision behind a pharmacy counter, which he said he is interested in discussing in the new year.
Lung injury outbreak
These changes come as the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) deals with an outbreak of a new lung disease it's calling EVALI, short for e-cigarette or vaping product use-associated lung injury. As of Dec. 17, there have been 2,506 hospitalizations and 54 deaths reported from the outbreak across the U.S.
On Dec. 20, the CDC released four reports about the outbreak, noting that emergency department visits for the condition appear to have peaked in September and are on the decline, though the rate is still higher than when the outbreak began in June. The injuries are believed to be linked to vitamin E acetate.
In addition, the CDC reports research suggesting that many patients experiencing EVALI remain vulnerable after hospital discharge. The CDC is now recommending that physicians follow up with a patient within two days after he or she is sent home from the hospital.
In addition, it recommends that people not use vaping products containing THC or vitamin E acetate, and that youth, young adults and pregnant women never use vaping products.