A proposal to ban electronic cigarettes and flavored tobacco in South San Francisco advanced under a decision by officials to support the initiative designed to improve the community’s health.

The South San Francisco Planning Commission unanimously approved, with commissioners Sam Shihadeh and Michelle Evans abstaining, recommending councilmembers pass the ordinance.

Should officials ultimately adopt the policy to disallow sales of devices and flavored tobacco, with an exemption for adult-only stores, South San Francisco could be the next in a growing local trend of cities with similar restrictions.

Recognizing similar ordinances adopted by county officials, as well as those in San Carlos, Half Moon Bay and Portola Valley, commission Chair JulieAnn Murphy advocated for moving the proposal ahead.

“I think it would behoove us to get our zoning code to align with what the City Council is trying to achieve by banning e-cigarettes and flavored tobacco,” said Murphy, according to video of the meeting Thursday, Sept. 5.

The South San Francisco City Council is slated to consider adopting the policy proposal next month. Bans on electronic cigarettes and flavored tobacco have grown increasingly common across California, as officials and lawmakers try to tamp down the rise in vaping, especially among children and teens.

County officials banned the sales of such products last year, citing a national survey indicating 81 percent of youth who’ve used tobacco reported flavored products were the first they tried.

Beyond the threat of developing addictions, advocates for the ban also noted the outcropping of other serious health conditions such as lung disease and other illness apparently tied with vaping.

While most of those more serious cases seem to involve those who have vaporized cannabis, fears linger over the e-cigarette industry as many health experts question the safety of the devices.

The South San Francisco City Council first weighed the outright ban in April, when some merchants raised concerns that loss of revenue tied to cutting sales would harm their business.

As a compromise, officials suggested exempting adult tobacco stores and vape shops from the ban, which would allow shops serving patrons 21 years or older to continue selling the products. With the amendment, the city’s ordinance would effectively take the items off the shelves of chain retailers such as convenience stores, pharmacies or other similar outlets.

Yet despite the loosened regulations accommodating the fears from local merchants, Commissioner Michelle Evans said she still held reservations.

“We need to be very careful in the zeal to protect the children that we are cutting out a segment of the population that is acting responsibly,” she said. “And we are saying that you can’t act responsibly, we need to take care of you. And I have a concern about that going forward.”

Evans added she felt the policy was an instance of gratuitous regulation which may have an adverse impact on the community’s local businesses.

“I do have a concern that regulating is a dangerous situation where we are becoming the parents of these young people and we are legislating the public to a point where they can’t make informed decisions on their own and it will effect the businesses of South San Francisco,” she said.

Evans did not provide a reason for abstaining from voting, while Shihadeh said he owns a story which sells the devices. Yet despite some of the issues raised, remaining commissioners ultimately universally supported its advancement.

“I’m pretty supportive of this,” said Commissioner Alan Wong.

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