The Contra Costa County Board of Supervisors has extinguished the sale of vaping, flavored tobacco and menthol cigarette products in the wake of nationwide safety and youth addiction concerns.
The prohibition, which includes both tobacco and cannabis vaping products, applies to unincorporated county areas only. It comes as vaping products have been blamed for many nationwide lung ailments and deaths, and widespread evidence suggests flavored tobacco and electronic cigarettes are driving up youth smoking rates.
“While there have been many successful efforts to reduce underage tobacco use, the growing availability of electronic cigarettes and flavored tobacco products has reversed positive trends in public health,” said Ryyn Schumacher, the county’s tobacco prevention manager.
Most alarming is a nationwide increase in serious and sometimes fatal lung injuries tied to electronic cigarettes or vaping product use, county health officials said this week.
In recent months, the national Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have documented 1,888 such cases, including 37 deaths.
California alone has documented 150 cases (two in Contra Costa County) and three deaths, said Dr. Chris Farnitano, a county health officer who noted the cases have been tied to multiple devices and products, including cannabis vaping, cannabidiol (CBD) oil and nicotine.
“There are probably multiple factors and multiple causes of this that we are still trying to understand,” he said. “Until we know more about the causes and which vaping devices and products, if any, are safe, the prudent measure is to place a moratorium on all vaping sales until we can learn more about the safety.”
The sale of menthol cigarettes, vaping solutions and other flavored tobacco products were already prohibited within 1,000 feet of schools, parks, playgrounds and libraries in unincorporated parts of the county, but the new regulations will ban all unincorporated county sales.
Virtually all tobacco vaping products sold today entered the market after 2007 and are considered “new tobacco products,” but have not yet obtained a premarket review order from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to determine if they pose public risk, according to a county staff report.
The FDA does not have regulatory oversight of cannabis, since the federal government still considers it an illegal product.
The ban drew a response from about 40 public speakers, including several school children supporting the move, while recounting friends’ addictions, smoke-filled school bathrooms, and parking lots littered with vaping paraphernalia.
“I don’t go a day without smelling some kind of flavored tobacco or vape product,” said Nicole McNab, a member of CourAGE, a countywide youth health coalition. “I no longer have to worry about the safety of my friends and peers who vape or use other flavored tobacco products, I need to also worry about my own personal safety as well.”
A number of cannabis advocates urged the board to leave marijuana out of the decision, noting such compliant products are safe for adult use, lab-tested and regulated, and a ban would ignite the black market and deny vulnerable, elderly users the right to easily use the product through their preferred vaping method.
“Compliant, regulated cannabis has hyper-rigorous testing,” said Shareef El Sissi, CEO of Eden Enterprises, a cannabis company. “There have been zero cases (of illness) tied to compliant cannabis.”
Dan Peddycord, the county’s director of public health, disputed those claims.
“There have been vaping related incidents that have been closely tied to fungicides, pesticides and other products sprayed on cannabis-specific products,” he said.
Local District 3 Supervisor Diane Burgis sympathized with the medical marijuana use argument, but indicated she was bothered by evidence suggesting youth vaping leads to tobacco use, something repeated by multiple experts and public speakers.
“Vaping was kind of marketed as a transition product to get out of smoking, and what we are seeing now is it’s been an entry level into tobacco,” she said. “I do recognize there is a significant amount of people that are using cannabis medicinally and that vaping has been a way of using it.”
Other supervisors agreed the ordinance should go forward, noting medical marijuana users can still utilize the product through smoking, water pipes and edibles.
“Those who need it right now for medicinal purposes can still access what they need to address their health issues, just they wouldn’t be able to use a vaping tool,” said District 4 Supervisor Karen Mitchoff.
As the debate over vaping safety rages on, county experts say youth vaping, along with flavored tobacco and electronic cigarette use by youngsters, appears to be increasing.
Electronic cigarette use jumped 135% among nationwide high school students from 2017 to 2019, Schumacher said. Additionally, a 2016 survey found one in three county eleventh graders admitting to vaping.
Other research found a significant correlation between youth electronic cigarette and cannabis use, according to an article in JAMA Pediatrics, a monthly, peer-reviewed medical journal.
“Our youth should not have access to vaping or e-cigarettes,” said Jacquelyne Vera, a county alcohol policy coordinator.
The ban on vaping, flavored tobacco and menthol cigarette products is set to take effect as early as mid-December.
For more information on the ban, visit www.bit.ly/347AnTL.