Soon it could be illegal to sell vaping products and electronic cigarettes in Arroyo Grande, and kids could be cited for having them.
The Arroyo Grande City Council voted at its meeting on Oct. 22 to develop an ordinance that would ban the sale of all vaping products and electronic cigarettes not approved by the FDA, through both brick-and-mortar stores and online sales.
The potential ban, which was initially conceptualized by Mayor Caren Ray Russom, is an effort to curb the surging popularity of vaping and e-cigarette use among teens, an issue that Russom said is especially pressing now that more than a dozen deaths and 1,000 lung injuries nationwide have been linked to vaping and e-cigarettes.
"Nobody knows what's in this stuff," Russom told New Times.
Arroyo Grande's proposed ordinance will be modeled on one in San Francisco, which in June became the first city in the U.S. to pass a ban on the sale of e-cigarettes and vaping products that haven't received FDA approval.
But Arroyo Grande is considering going a step further by making it illegal for residents under 21 to possess all tobacco products, punishable by a fine of $75 or 30 hours of community service, a controversial addition that many major health and anti-tobacco groups oppose.
According to information released in April by ChangeLab Solutions, a national organization that works to advance equitable laws for underserved communities, youth tobacco possession and use penalties like the one Arroyo Grande is considering have proven ineffective and inequitable.
"Instead of holding Big Tobacco accountable for their pernicious targeting and predatory marketing, [possession, use, and purchase] laws punish youth who may be addicted to tobacco," the ChangeLab Solutions fact sheet reads.
Russom said she understands that argument on a broader scale and agrees that kids, who are really the victims of big tobacco marketing schemes, shouldn't be criminalized.
"But what we hear on the ground, which is consistent with what Atascadero heard, is that in practice it's made it almost impossible for schools to enforce bans on campus," she told New Times.
Atascadero recently considered a ban on the sale of vaping products, and Morro Bay is in the process of developing one now.
Enforcement at school is especially challenging, she said, because of the way schools are rated by the state, a ranking that includes test scores and rates of suspensions. The higher the rates of suspensions, Russom said, the lower the score. So schools have a disincentive to take any serious disciplinary action against students caught with vapes.
But if school resource officers could threaten citations, Russom said she thinks kids would reconsider their actions.
"Even just having the penalty makes people think twice," she said.
Most other council members seemed to wholeheartedly agree, except Jimmy Paulding, who voted against drafting a ban on vaping products.
Paulding didn't seem concerned with the youth possession portion of the ordinance, but did take issue with the ban on online sales, which he said could be difficult to enforce and make it impossible for adults of legal age to get vaping products.
"I have to admit that this is a difficult issue for me," Paulding said at the meeting.
The ordinance will likely be drafted and read for the first time at Arroyo Grande's next City Council meeting in November. Δ