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Major California tobacco bills go before Assembly committee

Will Braaten exhales vapor from an e-cigarette at the Vapor Spot in Sacramento. The American Canyon City Council is considering an ordinance to bar stores in the city that exclusively sell e-cigarettes and tobacco products.

AMERICAN CANYON — With public health reports showing teenagers increasingly favoring e-cigarettes over tobacco products, the American Canyon City Council is preparing to pass a new law barring businesses that exclusively sell such products.

The California Department of Public Health issued a report this year that warned the rise in e-cigarette popularity posed a serious health threat, particularly among young people.

The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported as well that the use of e-cigarettes among middle school and high school students tripled from 2013 to 2014.

Given the large number of young families with school-age children in American Canyon, councilmembers say they want to discourage kids from smoking tobacco cigarettes or “vaping” smokeless e-cigarettes that use nicotine and other ingredients to make them enticing to youth.

To achieve this goal, the city wants to impose a permanent ban on single-purpose establishments selling any kind of cigarette. Such a store currently does not exist in American Canyon, though one owner approached the city earlier this year.

The law would not apply to markets or retailers that sell tobacco products or e-cigarettes among other types of goods.

“I have some concerns about having these kinds of businesses in American Canyon,” said Councilwoman Joan Bennett, who said the city should do all it can to keep youths from starting to smoke.

Bennett’s colleagues seem to be in agreement. The other councilmembers and Mayor Leon Garcia indicated at a Nov. 17 meeting that they favor keeping all cigarette-only stores out of town. They instructed staff to work on an ordinance, which may be presented to the council in December.

“I’ve never been fond of regulating personal behavior,” said Vice Mayor Kenneth Leary. “However, when it comes to addictive products,” he added, “I think it is shameful when we allow corporations to sell addictive products.”

Leary said a recent trip to Vallejo revealed how makers of e-cigarettes market their products to teenagers. A sign in the window of a local market read “Donuts,” but it wasn’t the breakfast treat for sale.

Donuts referred to a line of liquids that are sold to sweeten the e-cigarette experience.

“They have all of these flavors that are attractive,” said Leary. “It’s like a candy shop, and this stuff is wildly addictive. And we allow people to make all kinds of money on this stuff, and the consequences of their health is borne by the public.”

The debate prompted Councilman Mark Joseph to ask both the city’s top lawyer and law enforcement officer about the city’s need and authority to adopt a ban on all cigarette stores.

“Are we aware of any legal challenges to outright bans to a tobacco shop or a vape shop?” Joseph asked City Attorney William Ross. “Has an outright ban been upheld in court?”

Ross said he wasn’t aware of any litigation that has directly challenged such a prohibition.

“There’s been litigation in the area,” said Ross. “But I think it is well within your power” to impose an outright ban.

Joseph then turned to Chief of Police Tracey Stuart to ask if police have noticed kids abusing e-cigarettes.

Stuart said her department is “definitely seeing more kids smoking e-cigs,” some “as young as middle-schoolers.”

“Most of the time it’s the sweet stuff, the donuts, the candy (flavors),” Stuart added. “But they are often using them with marijuana. We’re seeing more of that.”

The chief said it is difficult to determine what kinds of substances teenagers have added to e-cigarettes because the devices do not give off the same odors as a cigarette or a joint.

“It is harder to identify,” said Stuart.

To which Joseph remarked: “That’s what I was worried about.”

The proposed ordinance, which is still being drafted, follows an emergency measure that councilmembers adopted in March that placed a temporary moratorium on stores that sell tobacco products as their main source of business.

That decision was prompted after a cigarette store contacted the city about possibly opening an establishment in American Canyon — a move city leaders opposed.

The inquiry exposed a hole in the city’s codes, which lacked any prohibition on tobacco-based or e-cigarette businesses.

The March ordinance addressed only tobacco, and is only good for one year.

The new ordinance would replace the emergency moratorium, and expand the ban to new “small-format and large-scale tobacco retailers and all new e-cigarette retailers, electronic cigarette lounges, vapor bars, and hookah bars” within the city, according to a staff report prepared for the council.

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