After a public hearing concerning an ordinance to ban the sale of vaping products, Visalia City Council voted 5-0 to have its staff write up a draft proposal.
The discussion considered revisions to the Visalia Municipal Code to prohibit the sale of flavored tobacco products including menthol cigarettes, e-cigarettes, and establishing distance requirements for new tobacco retail establishments.
Paul Bernal, Community Development Director, said that the number of cities throughout the state that have banned vaping products is 50 and growing.
City staff presented five options of varying degrees of restriction. Not all city council members agreed on a complete ban but all of them felt the city needed an ordinance to mandate a distance requirement for new tobacco retailers near schools, playgrounds, and libraries and changing the age limit from 18 to 21 years old.
Council members Brian Poochigian and Phil Cox were against a total ban while Council members Greg Collins, Bob Link, and Steve Nelsen said they would entertain all five options presented by staff.
Cox had requested in an earlier meeting the staff provide information on the causes of the lung disease attributed to vaping. The information he had read said that the illnesses and deaths were mainly attributed to cartridges containing THC.
Bernal said that researchers
report that “nothing about vaping appears to be healthy” and that CDC has not found one specific cause for the deaths.
Poochigian felt that there were already clear laws in the books prohibiting anyone under 21 using tobacco products so the fact that minors are accessing vaping products does not give credence to a complete ban. What Visalia needed, he said, was more enforcement by the police to enforce the laws we have.
Police Chief Jason Salazar was asked if his department had the budget to improve enforcement. Salazar said the state has just given the city a grant cracking down on minors buying tobacco products.
Poochigian said he does not like tobacco products and that his grandfather died of a stroke partially due to his heavy smoking but that he did not want to ban it for everyone else.
Mayor Bob Link ran a tight ship, only allowing 20 minutes for those in favor, who were numerous, and 10 minutes for those against. Those speaking in favor of the ban were parents, teachers and students, one as young as the third grade. Wyatt Lopez stood at the podium and said that the different flavors available “make it look safe but that they can kill.”
Rosendo Iniguez, from Sanger, said he didn’t believe it is purely a choice to start vaping when vaping products are ubiquitous and so close to the schools. He also pointed out that, of all the cities that have passed an ordinance banning vaping, not one is in the Central Valley. “Visalia has a chance to be a leader,” he said.
Nelsen did not want to negatively impact existing businesses and wasn’t convinced a ban would work because minors could just go to Dinuba or Famersville to get the products. But, he queried, “Where is the parental role in this? Are we to take on a parental role? Might be.” He said that the “city council can take a leadership position towards our youth and protect our youth.”
Those against a new ordinance concerning vaping were mostly business owners. Mathew Davidson, owner of Vape Savvy, said that responsibility is the key. He has a security guard/employee in his store from 3 – 8pm refusing service to any minors and he does not sell any candy flavors. Davidson also complained about the mainstream media’s war on vaping.
“The community enjoys these products,” said Davidson.
Another young man spoke who said he came from a family of addicts. He said that it hurt him to see all these people against vaping because vaping is healthier than cigarettes. He said that he started smoking in high school but quit in 2014 and now vapes.
During the city’s discussion of any new ordinance there was a consensus that any current vaping businesses would be grandfathered in and not be forced to close. The ordinance might, however, ban any future businesses from selling vaping products.
Bernal said that the staff would have a draft ordinance ready early next year. Link reminded the audience that there will be two public hearings concerning the ordinance and they will be able to speak several more times before a final version is passed.