The Kern County Board of Supervisors pulled back from a potential vaping ban at a meeting Tuesday, calling efforts to limit the use of e-cigarettes premature.
Instead, the county will move forward with strengthening its existing ordinance, potentially increasing penalties for shops that sell tobacco and vaping products to minors.
Supervisors convened at Tuesday’s meeting in part to address a rash of vaping-related injuries that have occurred over the past several months. A large group of shop owners and e-cigarette users attended the meeting in an attempt to stop supervisors from doing anything they would term as an overreaction to the hospitalizations.
As of Oct. 29, some 1,888 cases of lung injuries linked to vaping have been logged by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. So far, 37 people have died as a result of these injuries, with three of those deaths occurring in California.
The Kern County Public Health Services Department says three injuries have occurred in the county and more cases are being investigated.
In the midst of injuries, the Health Department reported that smoking claims the lives of 480,000 Americans each year and is the leading preventable cause of death.
The CDC says tobacco use among youth is rising, with many young people being introduced to the products through e-cigarettes.
Students and health groups pushed supervisors to enact stricter regulations on smoking and vaping.
“We have seen many devastating sights when it comes to tobacco usage,” said Gurvir Sidhu, an executive member of Students Working Against Tobacco. “Like seizures on school campuses. We have witnessed our peers ditching class to vape in the bathrooms, causing students to detest using them.”
He asked supervisors to ban flavored vaping products and limit tobacco retailers around youth-populated areas.
However, several former smokers said they needed flavored vaping cartridges to stay off cigarettes.
“I smoked for so long, 20 years,” said David Sparling, who described himself as a three-pack-a-day smoker. “I tried patches, doctor recommendations, even hypnotization. Nothing worked. The vapor did. I’ve been smoke-free for quite some time now. I’d like to stay that way.”
Other ex-smokers and shop owners seemed to convince supervisors not to take strong action against either vaping or smoking.
“I don’t think government is the answer to the problem,” Supervisor Mick Gleason said during the meeting. “I don’t think you come to Kern County to get someone to stop smoking in the high school bathroom. That’s not our job.”
The rest of the board seemed to agree. Supervisor Mike Maggard pointed to the apparent connection between black market vaping products and the injuries. Many of those injuries have reportedly been linked to the vaping of THC.
“If we deny any legitimate, any authorized, sales of these products, only illegitimate, black market products will be admitted and that presents a much bigger danger than those that are up there,” he said.
The Health Department will return to the board with proposed changes to existing ordinances. Those changes will likely strengthen punishments for shops that sell to underage individuals.
County sting operations using underage decoys have registered a decrease in the number of shops selling to minors.
Over the last three years, the county has seen an 8 percent decrease in shops busted for illegal minor sales. The sting operations registered just 4 percent of shops selling to the decoy in the last fiscal year.