E-cigarettes curbed in San Mateo County

The San Mateo County Board of Supervisors voted unanimously Tuesday to change the definition of “smoking” and “tobacco product” to include electronic smoking devices.

The Board also voted 4-1 to approve an ordinance prohibiting smoking of all types in and around unincorporated multi-unit residences, which include owner-occupied condominiums and townhouses.

The regulations, proposed by supervisors Carole Groom and Adrienne Tissier, only affect the county’s unincorporated areas, county spokeswoman Christa Bigue said.

The smoke-free multi-unit housing regulation requires landlords to post “no smoking” signs, include the restriction in the lease and designate smoking areas at least 30 feet from any door, window or vent.

Groom said the ordinance was ultimately about public health:

“Many reputable studies have shown that second-hand smoke has serious short-term and long-term health impacts, particularly for children and seniors. … Our job is to protect our most vulnerable residents.”

As evidence of the measure’s efficacy, Groom and Tissier cited a 2013 survey by the group California Healthy Stores for a Healthy Community, which showed the number of tobacco stores selling e-cigarettes had quadrupled between 2011 and 2013.

The supervisors also cited data from the California Office of Statewide Health Planning and Development that found there were 47,066 smoking-related hospitalizations in San Mateo County between 2006 and 2010 resulting in $567 million in associated health care costs.

The San Mateo Medical Center doled out $20 million in smoking-related treatment costs due to the hospitalizations, Groom said. Bigue said the San Mateo County Health System has been meeting with local partners and holding community workshops to discuss the issue for the past three years.

In 2013, Breathe California, the SUNSET Russian Tobacco Education Project, and the Youth Leadership Institute conducted a survey of San Mateo County residents. Of the respondents, 100 percent said they believed second-hand smoke is harmful and 95 percent said they would be bothered by the smell of tobacco in their apartments, Bigue said.

More than three-quarters of respondents said they would support the ban. Across California, Bigue said 26 jurisdictions prohibit smoking in multi-unit housing.

In unincorporated areas of San Mateo County, the ban will extend to e-cigarettes, according to the ordinance. Bigue said the e-cigarette regulation also requires electronic smoking device retailers to apply for a Tobacco Retail License and be subject to tobacco stings and fines if caught selling to minors.

The e-cigarette regulations are scheduled to go into effect in 30 days and will be enforced by the San Mateo County Health System, Bigue said. The smoking ban will not go into effect for another 14 months.