The Rohnert Park City Council on Tuesday, Feb. 28, voted to amend a part of its Municipal Code to include the regulation of electronic cigarettes.
The amendment passed 3-0-2 with little fanfare or discussion. Councilwoman Gina Belforte and Councilman Joseph Callinan were absent from the meeting.
E-cigarettes are battery powered devices that heat a liquid substance, which frequently contains nicotine or other harmful chemicals, for the purposes of inhalation by the user. When the charge from the battery warms the liquid it creates an aerosol that resembles smoke from a conventional cigarette that is inhaled and then exhaled into the air as a vapor known as vaping. Like cigarette smoke, the aerosol can carry in the air and may be inhaled by nearby non-smokers. While the science on e-cigarettes is still developing, an increasing amount of research, according to city staff, shows the use of e-cigarettes has negative effects similar to those associated with conventional cigarettes.
The state enacted Senate Bill (SB) 5 which amends the definition of “smoking” and “tobacco product” to include e-cigarettes in May 2016. The effect of the bill is to apply the current regulations on the use of cigarettes to e-cigarettes. These regulations include prohibiting the sale of e-cigarettes to minors, applying certain licensing requirements and taxes to e-cigarettes, prohibiting the use of e-cigarettes in certain places and limiting the advertising of e-cigarettes.
While the state law provides limits on the sale and use of e-cigarettes, the Rohnert Park’s Municipal Code (Chapter 8.32) prohibits smoking in several places not regulated by state smoking laws, including certain apartment buildings, day care centers and unenclosed spaces in the city. The current definition of smoking and tobacco products in Chapter 8.32 does not include e-cigarettes. The proposed amendments would include e-cigarettes in the Rohnert Park’s definition of tobacco product and e-cigarette use in the city’s definition of smoking. This will ensure consistency in Rohnert Park’s regulations for both tobacco products and e-cigarettes.
This particular portion of the city’s municipal code again may be amended as the council establishes a long-term strategy for regulating marijuana use. City staff currently is doing its due diligence on new state laws and the city’s policy options.
The city believes its regulations regarding tobacco products are extensive in protecting non-smokers and minors from cigarette and tobacco smoke while still protecting smokers’ rights to smoke in their own single-family homes, designated apartment units and in designated smoking areas. The impact from e-cigarettes, however, is not covered in the regulations.
The intent of the code amendment is to place e-cigarettes under the same rules and regulations as other tobacco products sold and used in the city and to align the definitions with state law. Specifically, the proposed ordinance makes the following changes: amends the title to include electronic cigarettes; adds new findings related to electronic cigarettes; and adds a new definition (“electronic cigarettes”) and amends the definitions of smoking and tobacco product to include electronic cigarettes. City staff says the regulations under Chapter 8.32 to e-cigarettes will provide for the health, safety and welfare of individuals residing, working or visiting in the City of Rohnert Park.
Staff recognizes that this section of the Municipal Code may be amended again as the City Council develops its long-term strategy for regulating marijuana use. However, because marijuana regulation is complex, staff is currently doing a thorough review of the new state law and the City’s policy options. To the extent that it is appropriate to amend elements of this chapter to regulate marijuana use, staff will bring those amendments back at a later date.
Rohnert Park’s Development Services Director Mary Grace Pawson, who presented the staff report to the council, said the Municipal Code may again be amended as the city develops a long-term strategy for regulating marijuana use. She said that because of the complexities of marijuana regulation, city staff is currently reviewing the new state law and the city’s options. If it is deemed appropriate to amend elements of the chapter to regulate marijuana use, staff will bring amendments to the council at a later date.