Visalia City Council votes to put possible vaping ordinance on regular agenda

At Monday night’s meeting the Visalia City Council voted 4-1 to put a discussion item on a future agenda about a new ordinance concerning vaping.

Councilmember Brian Poochigian cast the lone no vote saying vaping should be regulated at the state level. Poochigian said that if teens can’t get vaping products in Visalia they will just go to Farmersville or Tulare to buy them.

“In my mind, it doesn’t solve the problem of teen vaping,” said Poochigian.

Councilmember Greg Collins had requested agendizing the item to discuss an ordinance restricting the sale and marketing of e-cigarettes.

Approximately 10 people spoke at the podium in support of Collins’ request. They asked that Visalia adopt an ordinance banning vaping products from the city, or at least ban the flavored Juul cartridges including mint and menthol. None of those who spoke supported keeping the status quo.

Roy Kendall, a journalism student at COS, asked the city council to consider a similar ordinance passed by the city of Dana Point a year ago.

Switching out Visalia for Dana Point, Kendall’s suggested ordinance reads, “Residents and visitors of Visalia are entitled to be free from second hand smoke and prohibit smoking in public places.”

Dana Point’s ordinance defines smoke as the vapors released from vaping as well as the smoke from traditional cigarettes.

Kendall also requested again, as he did at the October 7 meeting, that Visalia ban the sale of e-cigarettes and flavored tobacco completely. In California, 42 counties or cities have already passed similar ordinances banning e-cigarettes.

Cha See, who represents the Lahu community in Visalia, said that their community’s teens have ample access to vaping products and have taken up the habit at an alarming rate. He said that his district has a higher density of tobacco products than any other in Visalia and there are 30 stores alone selling vaping products where most of the 3000 Visalia Lahu residents live.

See said that one Juul pod might have the same amount of nicotine as an entire pack of cigarettes and that these products are not regulated by the government.

Miguel Lopez, a middle school teacher, said that it was very obvious that Juul did not make the flavored pods for adults but for kids to hide the nicotine. He agreed with Lee, saying that the nicotine hit obtained with an e-cigarette is much stronger than regular cigarettes and is even more dangerous to teens’ developing brains.

Lopez said that the school has lost control of use of vaping by teens and wanted the city council to do something about it.

Just recently CNN reported, “Leading e-cigarette company Juul Labs will stop selling several flavored products in the United States, Only tobacco, mint and menthol flavors will remain for sale.”

Though a step forward, most people speaking during public comment wanted the mint and menthol flavors banned as well.

Three Mount Whitney students, who were part of the California Health Collaborative’s Visalia C.A.L.I. youth group, said that effective city policies can reduce teen vaping.

The youth group did its own survey and found 31 stores selling tobacco products within 1000 feet of the high schools. Of the stores surveyed they found a total of 96 different flavors of vaping products. The group pointed out that the industry targets vulnerable communities in order to lure a new generation to a lifetime of addiction to tobacco.

The high school students suggested that the city institute a tobacco retail license, akin to a liquor license, so the city can better keep track of how much tobacco is sold in Visalia. The students suggested that the city use the license fee to pay for more code enforcement.

Another suggestion was for Visalia to create a special zoning ordinance for tobacco so that the city could dictate where tobacco is sold and put a cap on the number of retailers. The students said that currently tobacco sales are concentrated in low income communities.

Collins related that the Visalia City Council has had a history of getting out in front of these types of issues. He said that the city was earlier than the rest of the state in banning smoking in restaurants and bars and that now smoking is banned in all of the city’s parks.

Councilmember Phil Cox requested that the staff include some research into the cause of the illnesses and deaths involving vaping in their background report on the future agenda item.

Cox said he had read that the cause of the deaths were the result of a product containing THC, or cannabis.

But according to the Centers for Disease Control, “We do know that THC is present in most of the samples tested by FDA to date, and most patients report a history of using THC-containing products…Since the specific causes or causes of lung injury are not yet known, the only way to assure that you are not at risk while the investigation continues is to consider refraining from use of all e-cigarette, or vaping, products.”

The agenda item has been tentatively scheduled to be on the November 18 city council agenda. This will be a discussion item only and the council will most likely not be voting on a vaping ordinance until a later date.

On October 24 Visalia Unified School District is hosting a forum on vaping at the El Diamante Theater from 6:30pm – 8pm.

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