Ordinance would ban electronic cigarettes on BART

Michelle Kim/Staff

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BART passengers may no longer be able to use electronic cigarettes on trains, after the transit system’s board of directors voted Thursday to adopt an ordinance that would ban the use of such devices in the BART system.

The act of smoking an e-cigarette, known colloquially as vaping, was not previously regulated on BART. In addition, no state or federal guidelines currently exist to control smoking e-cigarettes aboard trains, according to a BART press release.

“A number of complaints have reached the board of directors about people using electronic cigarettes and vaping devices on BART property,” said board member Robert Raburn in the release. “Other transit providers have enacted prohibitions that we now propose to enact.”

E-cigarettes, also called vapes, do not burn tobacco but instead heat liquid nicotine and flavoring to form inhalable vapor. Unlike their traditional counterparts, e-cigarettes do not release as much secondhand smoke, according to Nikolas Ignacio, an employee at Skyline Vape, an e-cigarette retailer on San Pablo Avenue.

“It’s a lot healthier,” Ignacio said. “I actually use it to help myself quit smoking cigarettes. I feel better going about my day.”

Various health advocacy groups, such as the American Lung Association, were present at the Thursday meeting and said they supported the ordinance because they see e-cigarettes as just as harmful as their traditional counterparts.

Serena Chen, policy director for the American Lung Association in California, received several complaint emails from San Francisco residents regarding people using e-cigarette devices aboard trains. She then contacted Raburn, who brought the concerns before the board and drafted the ordinance.

“All 400,000 (weekday) BART riders can now have an expectation now that they won’t be exposed,” Chen said.

The California Health and Safety Code prohibits smoking on public transport systems. Signs must also be posted to indicate nonsmoking areas on platforms and ticketing areas inside stations. No California law explicitly refers to smoking e-cigarettes on public transport, however, leaving it up to individual transit systems to come up with their own policy.

Last April, the city and county of San Francisco voted to pass a new health code article, which treats e-cigarettes as traditional cigarettes, banning them from places where traditional cigarettes are prohibited. Additionally, sellers are required to have a tobacco-sales permit, and pharmacies are barred from selling e-cigarettes.

“Nearly every city that BART stops in has adopted (an e-cigarette) law,” Chen said. “It became ironic that people are prohibited (from smoking e-cigarettes) in cities that BART goes through but could use them once on BART.”

Ignacio said banning e-cigarettes is a fair choice, adding that “people shouldn’t be smoking on BART trains and platforms anyways.”

The board will still need to formally adopt the ordinance during a Feb. 12 meeting before it can take effect, according to the release. Signs will be placed on platforms, trains and stations to notify riders about the new policy.

Adrienne Shih is the lead city reporter. Contact her at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter @adrienneshih.