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San Mateo County bans e-cigarettes to combat the vaping industry ‘preying on our children’

Amid growing concerns over the rise of teen vaping, San Mateo County is taking a stand against the electronic cigarette industry that one leader said is “preying on our children.”

The board of supervisors on Tuesday unanimously approved an ordinance banning the sale and distribution of electronic cigarettes in unincorporated San Mateo County.

Flavored e-cigarette and tobacco products are already banned in unincorporated San Mateo County and a growing number of Bay Area cities, including San Francisco, Livermore, Richmond and Fremont. But the county’s move on Tuesday makes it a part of an intimate group of Bay Area cities, including San Fransisco and Richmond, that are taking an extra step and banning vaping products altogether.

“We always think the two most important things in this county are health and safety — especially the safety of our young people,” said Board President Carole Groom. “…And it just doesn’t seem to be good enough anymore just to explain to people how dangerous they (tobacco and vaping products) are.”

The new ordinance requires final approval by the board at its meeting next week. But with full support from the board, the ordinance is expected to take effect in December and to start being enforced in June 2020.

Vaporizers, also referred to as e-cigarettes or vapes, are battery-operated devices that heat up a liquid — marijuana or tobacco products — to produce an aerosol that users inhale.

As of Tuesday, more than 1,888 cases of lung injuries and 37 deaths of individuals with a history of using e-cigarettes have been confirmed across the nation, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. San Mateo County health officials say they haven’t yet confirmed any cases of vaping-related illnesses or deaths, but they are looking into it.

During the 2017-18 school year, nearly 21 percent of high school students in San Francisco and San Mateo counties used e-cigarettes — about double the statewide average, according to the 2018 California Student Tobacco Survey.

“Make no mistake about it, the industry is preying on our children,” said Supervisor David Canepa, who sees this as a step toward outlawing the sale of tobacco in the county entirely.

California aims to reduce tobacco use in California to zero by 2035. San Mateo County plans to consider banning the sale and distribution of all tobacco products next year, the board said Tuesday.

“We’re not done when it comes to tobacco,” Canepa said. “Because this is about saving lives.”

Of the half a dozen residents and activists that spoke at the board meeting Tuesday, everyone voiced support of the ban. And according to Groom, business owners did not contest the proposed ordinance as they did with the county’s ban on flavored tobacco products.

“We shouldn’t have to wait for any more deaths for something to be done,” said Sonja Lancaster with the Pacifica Prevention Partnership, a grassroots community coalition focusing on the health and safety of teens.

Maggie Angst/The Mercury News