County expands smoking restrictions to include e-cigarettes, some multiunit homes

Frank Franklin/AP file photoThe Board of Supervisors voted 9-2 to deny an appeal that will allow an electronic cigarette business on Ocean Avenue to move forward. Opponents argued that vaping is unsafe and wrongly influences children to use tobacco.

San Mateo County supervisors have expanded smoking restrictions to prohibit use of electronic cigarettes in areas where cigarette smoking is banned, and prohibit smoking in and around multiunit residences in unincorporated county areas.

The Board of Supervisors unanimously approved an ordinance Tuesday to amend the definitions of smoking and tobacco product to include e-cigarettes and other electronic devices. Additionally, the supervisors voted 4-1 to pass an ordinance prohibiting smoking of all types at multiunit residences, including condominiums and townhomes, in unincorporated areas.

“These ordinances are ultimately about public health,” said Supervisor Carole Groom, who introduced the legislation along with Supervisor Adrienne Tissier. “Many reputable studies have shown that second-hand smoke has serious short-term and long-term health impacts, particularly for children and seniors, and our job is to protect our most vulnerable residents.”

The smoking ban for multiunit housing requires landlords to post no smoking signs in prohibited areas, include the restriction in the lease, and designate a smoking area at least 30 feet from any door, window or vent.

In pushing the new restrictions, Groom and Tissier cited research showing that e-cigarette sales are targeting youths and second-hand smoke disproportionately affects low-income families. According to a 2013 survey by Healthy Stores for a Healthy Community, the number of tobacco stores selling e-cigs quadrupled between 2011 and 2013. Data from the Office of Statewide Health Planning and Development also indicates that there were 47,066 smoking-related hospitalizations in San Mateo County between 2006 and 2010.

“Treatment costs for these hospitalizations were $567 million, and total costs spent by the San Mateo County Medical Center were over $20 million,” Groom said.

County health officials and law supporters conducted public-outreach efforts over the past three years to receive resident feedback on the expanded smoking restrictions. More than three-quarters of residents surveyed throughout the county were in support of smoke-free multiuse housing policies, proponents said.

The ordinances are slated to go into effect in 30 days, but smoking would not be prohibited in existing units of multiunit residences until 14 months after the ordinance's final approval.

“As a county, we have a responsibility to protect the health of our residents,” Tissier said. “By adopting this very comprehensive ordinance, other cities can move forward with this effort.”

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