Supervisors propose regulations on electronic cigarettes

San Francisco supervisors plan to announce legislation this morning to regulate electronic cigarettes, increasingly popular particularly among teenagers, in the same way that The City regulates tobacco.

The proposed ordinance, sponsored by Supervisor Eric Mar and co-authored by Board of Supervisors President David Chiu and Supervisor John Avalos, would amend The City’s health code to prohibit the use of e-cigarettes where smoking is not allowed, require a tobacco permit for selling e-cigarettes and prohibit the sale of the devices where the sale of tobacco is prohibited.

E-cigarettes “deliver lower levels of toxins than conventional cigarettes, but they still deliver some toxins,” according to a report on e-cigarettes by UC San Francisco in December.

In addition, a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention study showed that the number of high school students who had tried e-cigarettes increased from 4.7 percent in 2011 to 10 percent in 2012.

Mar, who has a 13-year-old daughter, said the number of students he hears about smoking in and outside the classroom has grown “exponentially.”

“E-cigarette companies use flavors like cotton candy I think as a hook for a new generation of users, but especially targeting teens and younger people,” said Mar, adding that the legislation is also meant to crack down on illegally selling e-cigarettes to minors.

“Tobacco companies know it’s a wild west out there, so common-sense regulations like ours that treat e-cigarettes like regular cigarettes are important,” he said.

The presence of e-cigarettes in media is “normalizing the smoking after several decades of anti-tobacco work to keep cigarettes out of television ads and magazines,” Mar added.

Another concern among health authorities is that people who smoke traditional tobacco products could do so in areas where it is prohibited if they see e-cigarettes being used.

The proposed ordinance seeks measures similar to those that have been instituted in Chicago, New York, Seattle, Boston and the nearby city of Richmond. The three supervisors, along with Tobacco Free Coalition members and UCSF researchers, will announce the legislation at 11 a.m. today at City Hall.

“San Francisco’s public-health policies are among the strongest in the nation,” Mar said. “We’re trying to coordinate with other big cities to move quickly at the same time that these companies are targeting the youth.”

The initiative, which legislators stress is not a ban on e-cigarettes, will be heard Thursday by the Board of Supervisors Rules Committee and could be considered by the full board the following Tuesday. The San Francisco Unified School District is moving forward with a policy of its own, Mar said.

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