SLO County may halt vape sales, but many question total bans

Dec 3, 2019

The San Luis Obispo County board of supervisors may soon introduce an ordinance to ban the sale of electronic smoking devices in the unincorporated areas of the county. According to the Dec. 10 board meeting agenda, a public hearing on the issue could be slated for January 14. The issue comes before county officials as a bipartisan group of national lawmakers—including seven from California—sent a letter to President Trump this week urging a ban on all flavored e-cigarettes.

Meanwhile, two Central Coast cities—Morro Bay and Arroyo Grande—have already begun the process of banning the sale of all vaping products in their jurisdictions. But not all city leaders are in favor of complete bans, and some business owners say the move will slash half their business and fortify the black market.

Of ten city council members between the two cities, Marlys McPherson of Morro Bay was the only one to vote 'no' on a total vape ban. She said, however, she could have gotten behind a ban of flavored e-cigarettes.

“Bubble gum e-cigs are designed to appeal to young people,” McPherson told KCBX News. “The problem we’re trying to deal with is underage vaping.”

McPherson said total bans won’t fix that problem.

“It deprives Morro Bay of the sales tax when, in fact, all of those adults who can legally smoke are going to go buy the product elsewhere,” McPherson said.

Ben Akkare owns a 21-and-over smoke shop in Morro Bay.

“I did the quick math—between all the tobacco that’s been sold in Morro Bay, we're talking about at least $50,000 in revenue [a year] for the city," Akkare said.

Akkare and other tobacco shop owners say 40 to 50 percent of their business is now vape-related. And if the Morro Bay ban goes into effect, Akkare says, Los Osos stores will get his customers.

“I think it’s bad, it’s going to hurt my business a lot," Akkare said. "I don’t know if I can keep my shops open."

Akkare and McPherson both say underage users are buying vaping products via the internet, and a citywide ban will push more people online, where product sales are not regulated.

"High schoolers are going to keep ordering [vape products] online, which is still legal," Akkare said. "[Some vendors] make [e-cigarettes] in their garage and only God knows what’s inside those. I’ve never sold to a minor. I think we are doing our part and the city is going too harsh on us.”

Both the Morro Bay and Arroyo Grande city councils have to revisit the ordinances again, likely in the next month, but staff in both cities say a total ban on vape sales still seems imminent.