City Council conducts reading of ordinance restricting electronic smoking devices

Sonia Brin/File

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On Tuesday, Berkeley City Council conducted a preliminary review on an ordinance that would impose restrictions on the use of electronic smoking devices — including e-cigarettes and vaporizers — in places where smoking is currently prohibited.

Currently, smoking is banned in various areas such as commercial sidewalks, parks, and multiunit housing, including apartments, condominiums and group housing. Last December, the council chose to ban the use of cigarettes in multiunit housing developments, and UC Berkeley prohibited the use of e-cigarettes on campus, effective this January.

Councilmember Jesse Arreguin said use of e-cigarettes could lead to the development of smoking habits. He also said tobacco companies use tactics such as selling specific flavors of e-cigarettes, such as bubble gum or cookies and cream, to attract younger customers.

“(The ordinance) will ensure youth are not subject to the predatory advertising and promotion that tobacco companies use to sell e-cigarettes,” he said.

According to Rick Pfrommer, the chair of the Medical Cannabis Commission, the commission took issue with the fact that the restrictions in the proposed ordinance would also apply to vaporizers — which are electronic devices used to deliver cannabis — at a July 8 council meeting.

The ordinance was then amended to allow the use of vaporizers within an enclosed area of a unit in multiunit housing as well as allow dispensary members to use the device inside and within 50 feet of a medical cannabis dispensary.

Some local smoke shops were concerned about the ordinance’s potential effect on business, while other members of the community questioned the effectiveness of smoking bans in general.

An employee at the Nepalese Gift & Smoke Shop who gave the name “RJ” said he thought the regulations would have a negative effect on business because he saw a decline in the number of regular customers buying cigarettes after the city passed its December smoking ban.

“I will support whatever the community wants,” said Hari Pandey, the owner of Wholesale Price Smoke and Gift. “If they want regulations on e-cigarettes, I am okay with that, and if they don’t, that is also fine with me.”

Dinesh Pandey, Pandey’s son, said he was uncertain about how effective placing restrictions on electronic smoking devices would be, explaining that he regularly sees people violating the current ban with no consequence.

Contact Nico Correia at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter at @nicolocorreia.