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City looks to keep e-cigarettes out of the hands of minors

OCEANSIDE — City Council discussed ways to strengthen state laws and keep e-cigarettes out of the hands of minors at the Dec. 18 meeting.

Councilman Jerry Kern said he was moved to bring the issue forward when he saw Oceanside kids smoking e-cigarettes.

California state law prohibits the sales of e-cigarettes to minors, but it seems kids are still getting their hands on them.

E-cigarettes are battery-operated devices that turn nicotine and other chemicals into a vapor that is inhaled by the user.

They are flavored and have a selection of “kids flavors” that appeal to minors.

“You’re breathing in a fine mist of oil,” said Debra Kelley, regional director of programs and advocacy for the National Lung Association in California.

Oceanside is looking at restricting how e-cigarettes can be sold and where they can be smoked to put more barriers between e-cigarettes and kids.

The health risks of e-cigarettes are still being questioned. Currently the FDA (Food and Drug Administration) does not regulate e-cigarettes and has not fully studied them.

It is not known how much nicotine or other potentially harmful chemicals are being inhaled during use, or if there are any benefits from e-cigarettes, such as helping smokers quit smoking.

“The use of these things is a growing problem,” Erica Leary, program manager of North Coastal Prevention Coalition, said. “We as a nation took way too long to address tobacco.”

Leary added that tobacco companies are purchasing e-cigarette companies.

The FDA issued warning letters to electronic cigarette distributors in 2010 for violations of the FDA Cosmetic Act, citing that distributors are making unsubstantiated drug claims, and using the devices as delivery mechanisms for active pharmaceutical ingredients.

While there are no current federal regulations, states and cites have stepped up and passed laws to restrict the sales and use of e-cigarettes.

San Diego Board of Supervisors discussed countywide regulations on e-cigarettes in November with supervisors supporting and opposing the idea.

El Cajon passed its first e-cigarettes ordinance in 2002.

“We have passed countless revisions and ordinances to reduce sales to minors,” Lorenzo Higley, chair of the San Diego Tobacco Control Coalition, said.

Sales of e-cigarettes to minors in El Cajon have dropped from 40 percent to 1 percent. Higley said the success comes from having ordinances in place and compliance checks.

Councilwoman Esther Sanchez said she hopes Oceanside laws will be modeled after those in El Cajon, which come at no cost to the city or taxpayers.

Sanchez said one Oceanside shop has a license to sell e-cigarettes and another shop is applying for license. She stressed that regulations on how e-cigarettes are sold and advertised in the city are needed now.

“It is a very serious issue,” Sanchez said. “It’s a very dangerous substance.”

City Attorney John Mullen said ordinance amendments could be made to prohibit smoking e-cigarettes in areas where smoking is already prohibited, and to include e-cigarettes in the ordinance that regulates tobacco paraphernalia sales and advertisement.

Mullen said he would prepare a draft ordinance for City Council to discuss in early March.