Santa Cruz’s tobacco smoking regulations now include what’s claimed to be smoking’s new fad — electronic cigarettes.
In a unanimous vote on March 25, the Santa Cruz City Council decided to expand its existing tobacco regulations to include the vaporizing tool, which means electronic cigarettes are only allowed in designated areas marked for smoking. Council member Pamela Comstock pushed the expansion of the ordinance, citing a lack of research surrounding the health impacts of vapor.
“I wanted to bring this forward so we can stay ahead of the curve instead of doing cleanup work after the Food and Drug Administration updates its regulations,” Comstock said.
The regulations currently enforced with tobacco products will now extend to these popular vaporizing tools, including prohibiting smoking within 25 feet of open doors and windows, in and around city buildings, in city parks and on Pacific Avenue right-of-ways.
“[The ordinance] is a little extreme — it can drive people to do things they wouldn’t normally do,” said Pipeline Smoke Shop employee Andrew Hall.
More than 40 California cities, including large areas like Los Angeles and San Diego, now regulate vaporizers, which often look similar to regular tobacco products.
The primary difference between an electronic cigarette and a standard cigarette is obvious once you get a look at the inside — electronic cigarettes don’t contain tobacco.
Comstock, when talking about the possible long term effects of greater electronic cigarette use, claimed it could lead to a “new generation of smokers.”
While the negative effects for most tobacco products are well known by both smokers and the public, the effects of vaporizing are still a mystery. Although many vendors and distributors of electronic cigarettes claim they are the healthier alternative to smoking — and can even aid in quitting — no substantial amount of research has proven the benefits of the nicotine-based alternative.
Hundreds of companies in the United States produce and sell electronic cigarettes, and while very few of them actually make specific claims on the medical effects of their product, many of them point out benefits of reduced secondhand smoke and the absence of tobacco.
The FDA stated several concerns over the popularity of electronic cigarettes, stating that the effects of inhaling pure nicotine have yet to be studied adequately. Concerns of quality control have also been expressed, as some companies may not disclose the full list of chemicals used in the creation of vaporizers.
Although the regulations aim to control the use of electronic cigarettes, many stakeholders believe major change is unlikely to happen.
Santa Cruz resident Eddy Lee, who uses both regular cigarettes and vaporizers, said the expanded ordinance will not affect his habits.
“Nope, absolutely not. People will find a way around the rules like they always have,” Lee said.
Lee also said the ordinance is based off of the majority’s needs. Smokers would be classified as a minority, with the majority working to be more “health conscious,” leaving smokers forced to follow more rigid laws when using both electronic and regular cigarettes.
Additionally, Lee said fear of electronic cigarettes is based on a lack of information.
“Until they find out what problems they can induce, people will continue to try to regulate [e-cigs],” Lee said.
Smoke shops like Pipeline, Home Blown Glass and Needful Things located on Pacific Avenue are a few of the many vendors including 7-11, Safeway and Walgreens providing electronic cigarettes to Santa Cruzans. The general consensus among their employees is that the expanded regulations wouldn’t affect business or downtown life.
“People are going to do what they do. We still sell a lot of tobacco products — I don’t think it’ll change at all,” said said Pipeline Smoke Shop employee Andrew Hall.
Hall said new regulations would be much harder to enforce compared to ordinary cigarettes.
“They are sneaky and very easy to use,” Hall said. “It vaporizes the smoke.”
Many smokers who opted for the use of the convenient battery powered cigarettes claim secondhand smoke doesn’t apply in their situation.
“The thing with e-cigarettes is they aren’t harming anyone else,” Hall said. “Vaporizing has been around for a long time. You can’t get a secondhand vapor nicotine buzz.”
Despite the absence of substantial research surrounding the health effects of electronic cigarettes, they’ve become popular all over the United States — the number of American smokers trying electronic cigarettes doubled from 2010 to 2011, according to the Center for Disease Control. With Santa Cruz’s expanded ordinance, the city is starting to consider what the new fad might entail while also taking action to prepare.