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San Luis Obispo introduces e-cigarette regulation

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Smoke ’em while you got ’em—in public, at least.

In a unanimous decision, the San Luis Obispo City Council voted to introduce an ordinance that will treat electronic "e-cigarettes" the same as tobacco products. And in SLO, that treatment translates to a prohibition of e-cigarette vaping at indoor and most outdoor public places. City Council members went one step further, and modified a 2010 ordinance related to tobacco products. Under the new rules of the introductory ordinance language, previous exemptions to “significant tobacco retailers” that allowed smoking in a place of business will not be applied to future business applications.

City Council members and staffers stressed that they weren’t implementing a ban on e-cigarettes, but were bringing the trendy alternative products in line with tobacco products. Under the ordinance language, any business selling e-cigarette products will have to obtain a tobacco retailer license. Special Projects Manager Greg Herman said staffers estimate there are already 40 businesses with tobacco licenses, at least two businesses that sell e-cigarettes but not tobacco, and at least one business that qualifies as a significant tobacco retailer.

SLO is widely considered the first city to ban smoking in public places, and a city staff report cites more than 40 California cities with e-cigarette regulations. City staffers and a number of people who spoke at the March 3 meeting raised concerns about the health risks of e-cigarette vapor, the potential to entice children to smoke, and a perhaps questionable ability to deter smokers from inhaling the old, analog stuff.

New Times counted nine people who spoke in favor of e-cigarette regulations, and eight people who praised the devices as a healthier alternative to smoking. Several people said e-cigarettes helped them kick one- or two-pack-a-day smoking habits when nothing else could. Many also questioned the supposed health risks, including information put forward by the California Department of Public Health. They also asked that vaping be considered distinct from smoking, particularly when it involves products that contain no nicotine.

But after some back and forth between council members over the question of revisiting the exemption for significant tobacco retailers, they agreed to regulate e-cigarettes on par with tobacco.

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