HAYWARD -- After seven electronic cigarette stores opened in the past 10 months, the City Council called a time out on new ones this week while it figures out how to regulate them.
"How much is enough? Do we just let stores pop up? That's what's been happening," said Councilman Mark Salinas before the council passed a 45-day moratorium on new retailers. Although the freeze also applies to businesses selling tobacco or hookah products, almost all comments to the council were about e-cigarettes, battery-operated devices that allow users to inhale a nicotine vapor without the chemicals of burning tobacco.
While conceding that e-cigarettes may help tobacco smokers quit, several council members said they were concerned the devices attract young people. Councilman Greg Jones pointed out that e-cigarettes come in flavors, including bubble gum.
"Give me a break. If that's not targeting kids -- I think it's obvious what that's about," he said.
The moratorium, which does not affect current businesses, will give staff members time to draft an ordinance regulating tobacco, hookah and e-cigarette retailers. Hayward has 146 businesses, including gas stations and convenience stores, selling tobacco products, two hookah lounges and eight vapor, or e-cigarette, shops, said city associate planner Linda Ajello.
By law, no one under 18 can buy e-cigarettes. But when police ran a sting in December, three of Hayward's eight vapor stores did not properly check identification, Ajello said.
Customers must be 18 to enter the It Is Vapor 5 store on B Street, said co-owner Jennifer Mish. "I card everyone," she said. Her store was not one of the ones cited, Ajello told the council. The shop has helped more than 5,000 tobacco smokers quit, said co-owner Steve Hernandez.
The 13 people who spoke at Tuesday's meeting were divided on whether e-cigarettes are a risk, with many echoing the council's concern about their appeal to teenagers. Use of the devices is increasing among youths, said Serena Chen of the American Lung Association, who favored the moratorium. As to the long-term effects of e-cigarettes, "there's a lot of competing research," she said. "It's the wild, wild West."
The federal Food and Drug Administration has not ruled on whether e-cigarettes help tobacco users quit or on their safety, according to a staff report. But several people told the council in e-mails that the devices helped them quit or greatly reduce their smoking.
Hayward resident Charlene Shores told the council that her adult daughter started using e-cigarettes at Thanksgiving and has gone from a pack of cigarettes a day to almost none and, she said, the vapor does not bother her, even though she has asthma.
"Do not have a rush to judgment. I think this is a very good product," she said.
Contact Rebecca Parr at 510-293-2473.