Originally written and featured by the Community Anti-Drug Coalitions of America (CADCA) on October 23, 2014 and is available at http://bit.ly/ZQ72LK.
The California coast is a beautiful place to live with ocean breezes, miles of sand and sunny days. However, the laid-back lifestyle can be a magnet for mellowed-out establishments that are sometimes controversial, such as vape shops.
Erica Leary, program manager of the North Coastal Prevention Coalition, explained that the issue surrounding vape shops and e-cigarettes has spread across San Diego County.
“Over the past year we have done more to restrict e-cigarette use in public,” Leary said. “Whether or not e-cigarettes are dangerous or helpful for smokers to quit, they have harmful secondhand smoke and are enticing to teens with flavors like gummy bears and cotton candy.”
Leary said that most cities in the county were successful in amending policies so e-cigarettes are not permitted wherever tobacco is also banned, such as parks, beaches, outdoor dining patios (in some cities) and other public areas.
Unfortunately, they haven’t been as successful in preventing the spread of vape shops.
“We thought city zoning regulations would have been sufficient to require a conditional use permit for vape shops, but apparently it wasn’t,” Leary said. “When the first one or two opened, the city tried to regulate them under tobacco shop regulations, but vape shops claimed they did not sell tobacco products.”
The city researched the law and ruled on the vape shop’s side — they did not fall under the city’s tobacco regulations.
“Now there are over a dozen vape shops in Oceanside, not including all gas stations and convenience stores selling e-cigarettes and vape pens,” Leary said.
This is especially troubling because numerous illicit substances can be inhaled by vaping including marijuana, heroin, meth and liquid spice.
“The city attorney is looking into amending the zoning process to include requiring a conditional use permit for all future vape shops,” Leary explained.
In addition, one of the coalition’s partners, Vista Community Clinic’s Tobacco Control Program has been doing a lot of tobacco education outreach. There was a forum at a local school, articles in newspapers, broadcast news stories and presentations to school groups and city officials. Many parents are completely unaware of the dangers and are buying the products for their kids, Leary said.
One of the county’s board of supervisors authored part of an opinion piece in the San Diego Tribune, saying that he was against the prohibition of e-cigarettes in public. But when the county voted on the issue, he supported regulations.
“While we did have success in expanding smoke free areas in the city to include vaping, we let the issue of vape shops get away from us,” Leary said. “A word of caution for other coalitions to keep their eyes and ears open and to visit city planning departments to see if they received any applications for vape shops. Finally, see if any additional permits are required and have city officials look at it.”
Leary added that there are community concerns about what people are smoking in vape pens. Ads for illegal marijuana dispensaries in local papers urge people to “visit for all vaping needs” making a clear connection between marijuana use and vaping. Marijuana vaping is being reported on local college campuses as well.
This growing trend of vaping marijuana is leading to tragic consequences.
San Diego County has seen a tremendous increase in explosions resulting from home-based hash oil extraction labs. In the past 12 months there have been 20 explosions and fires in San Diego County involving people trying to make hash oil. Many of these incidents lead to serious injury, some life-threatening. Hash oil is extracted from remnants of the marijuana plant, often with butane gas which is very volatile. The resulting hash oil is extremely concentrated in THC, the active ingredient in marijuana.
Hash oil, also known as “wax,” “honey oil,” “dabs,” can be used to make marijuana edibles, but is also commonly smoked in vape pens. Curbing this growing trend will take collaboration with many community partners.
“The crime-free multi-housing training program provided by the San Diego County Sherriff’s Department has included information for apartment owners and managers to make sure they are aware of the signs of hash oil labs, including the large number of butane gas canisters often found in trash dumpsters,” Leary said. “We don’t know whether or not there is any potential to regulate the sale of butane gas. From what I hear, people order online and get a big box delivered to their homes.”
In the meantime, discarded butane canisters are a telltale sign that neighbors should be aware of, and urged to call law enforcement before tragedy strikes.
Leary believes California’s strong tobacco control efforts played a key role in prohibiting the use of e-cigarettes where smoking is banned.
“Many elected officials acknowledged how far we’d come in reducing smoking rates, and did not want to see that creep back up with normalizing smoking behavior through e-cigarettes,” she said. “This may be a good place to start for other coalitions – amending their local tobacco policies at the school district, city, and county level to include prohibiting the use of e-cigarettes where smoking is banned.
“Addressing the advertising, retail availability, marketing and flavors of e-cigarettes will be a longer campaign and require the cooperation of multiple stakeholders,” Leary concluded.