By Mina Kim and Lisa Pickoff-White
Update March 19: The San Francisco Board of Supervisors unanimously voted on Tuesday to treat electronic cigarettes as regular cigarettes, effectively banning them at bars, restaurants and businesses. Sellers will also have to secure a special permit, and e-cigarettes can’t be sold at pharmacies and other businesses where tobacco sales are banned.
Original story: A committee of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors debated on Thursday afternoon (March 7) whether to restrict the use of electronic cigarettes to areas where smoking tobacco is allowed. Supporters and opponents packed the room.
“The VA Medical Center recommended I try e-cigarettes to stop smoking,” Michael Barger said during public comments. “Within three weeks I stopped, and now this is my vaporizer.”
Several other cities around the country already have restricted e-cigarettes, the battery-powered devices that heat up liquid nicotine so that the vapor can be inhaled. On Tuesday, Los Angeles City Council members placed “vaping” in the same category as tobacco smoking. Long Beach then passed a stricter ordinance, also banning shops and “vaping” lounges. Richmond passed a ban in December. Some states also are considering regulations, and a U.S. Senate bill introduced last month would curb electronic cigarette marketing while the fast-growing industry awaits regulation by the Food and Drug Administration.
Thursday’s hearing coincided with the release of a UC San Francisco study that found teens who try e-cigarettes are more likely to try cigarettes as well.
“We found that e-cigarettes were associated with more, not less, cigarette smoking among adolescents,” said lead author Lauren Dutra, a postdoctoral fellow at the UCSF Center for Tobacco Control Research and Education. “E-cigarettes are likely to be gateway devices for nicotine addiction among youth, opening up a whole new market for tobacco.”
The study analyzed responses from U.S. middle and high school students to the 2011 and 2012 National Youth Tobacco Survey. The study didn’t examine whether youths initiated smoking with conventional cigarettes or e-cigarettes. But the authors noted that about 20 percent of middle school students and about 7 percent of high school students who had ever used e-cigarettes had never smoked regular cigarettes, which indicates that some kids are introduced to the addictive drug nicotine through e-cigarettes, the authors said.
“I can’t tell you, for example, that e-cigarettes cause smoking among adolescents,” Dutra said. “But what we saw is among e-cig users, they were more likely to be cigarette smokers. Those who use e-cigs and conventional tobacco cigs were less likely to quit smoking, even though they reported being more likely to be planning to quit in the next year. They were also more likely to be heavier smokers.”
The legislation could be considered by the full board on Tuesday.
The Associated Press also contributed to this report.