Vaping Devices

Schools throughout the East Valley confiscate dozens of vaping devices from students every week. This cache was gathered by Tempe Union officials. (Special to the Tribune)

More than a decade after Arizona voters approved an initiative placing restrictions on smoking in public places, Mesa plans to apply the same restrictions to vaping.

The motivations for the proposed new ordinance – scheduled to be introduced at a City Council meeting on Monday – also seem similar: to protect public health and to eliminate an unnecessary nuisance.

The proposed Mesa ordinance is consistent with other local regulations passed by Tempe, Tucson and Flagstaff to place restrictions on vaping. 

Not surprisingly, the same cities triggered the first wave of restrictions on smoking in 1996 before voters passed the initiative in 2006 creating the state law.

“When I saw other cities doing it, I spoke with the superintendents. I was anxious to move forward,’’ Mesa Mayor John Giles said.

He said a group of superintendents of school districts serving Mesa all backed the idea of adding vaping to the city’s smoking ordinance.

“This vaping issue has hit the schools in a big way,’’ Giles said.

He said the vaping law should help school resource officers – police officers who assist with security and other functions – to help school districts fight the vaping epidemic among teenagers.

“This will give them another tool on campus,’’ Giles said. 

He cited news reports from throughout the nation linking vaping with thousands of serious lung illnesses and dozens of deaths.

The federal Centers for Disease Control is investigating the causes associated with vaping, serious illnesses and deaths. The e-cigarettes emit an aerosol vapor and typically includes nicotine, an addictive substance linked to cardiovascular disease. They also are suspected of containing other chemicals and even heavy metals.

Although Juul, which resembles a thumb drive and delivers a powerful nicotine hit similar to many cigarettes, dominates the market, the investigation is complicated by the wide variety of vaping products and juices.

The CDC reports 47 deaths and 2,290 suspected lung injuries tied to vaping, but it has tracked no deaths in Arizona. 

In many cases, the most severe cases appeared to be linked to vaping of a combination of nicotine and THC, the active ingredient in marijuana.

The CDC noted 48 percent of these serious cases include combination among patients where complete information is available and 83 percent of such patients reported using THC and 61 percent reported using nicotine.

JoAnna Strother of Chandler, senior director of advocacy for the Arizona Lung Association, praised Mesa for adding vaping to its smoking ordinance.

She said local laws passed by cities and towns create momentum for the state legislature to pass a more inclusive state law.

Her association supports the bill introduced by Sen. Heather Carter, R-Cave Creek, who wants to raise the age for buying tobacco and vaping products from 18 to 21.

Carter also wants to classify vaping products as a tobacco product, a move commonly resisted by industry. 

Carter has run into opposition from within her own party, with state Rep. TJ Shope, R-Coolidge, who asserts 18-year-olds are serving in the military and deserve to be treated fully as adults.

“Certainly, this helps build momentum at the statewide level and to educate lawmakers,’’ Strother said. “It’s the community coming together.’’

She said the Smoke-Free Arizona Act of 2006, which was approved by voters and largely banned indoor smoking, was the result of a groundswell of community support from cities such as Flagstaff, Tempe, Mesa and Tucson.

“It’s to make it socially unacceptable. That’s why these ordinances are so important,’’ Strother said.

Tucson spotlighted the issue in October by raising the age for buying tobacco and vaping products from 18 to 21.

But Shope contends cities and towns do not have the legal authority to regulate the sale of tobacco and vaping products. He has asked Attorney General Mark Brnovich for a legal opinion.

Shope acknowledges the Legislature has not specifically preempted local ordinances, but he also says there is no state law specifically allowing such regulations.

Shope is hoping to obtain an opinion from Brnovich that local ordinances are illegal and unenforceable.

Mesa stopped short of following Tucson’s lead and does not propose to regulate sales in any fashion. The Mesa ordinance “prohibits smoking in public facilities, public gathering spaces, certain places of employment, and in some businesses, such as restaurants and bars, unless they have separately ventilated areas to allow for smoking/vaping,’’ according to a city council report, adding:

“Akin to the existing no-smoking laws, vaping in Mesa would continue to be allowed in places, such as private residences, public housing dwelling (except in common areas), hotel rooms where smoking is allowSed, private clubs, tobacco shops, or in locations where vaping products are sold.’’

The Mesa ordinance is scheduled to be introduced on Monday and passed into law on Dec. 9. 

The ordinance would not take effect until June 9, 2020, to allow for a public education period. 

Vaping in a public place covered by the ordinance would become a petty offense, subject to a series of fines ranging from a minimum of $150 for the first offense to $2,500 for the third offense.

Chandler and Gilbert have less restrictive vaping laws, banning it only public property, according to a chart attached to the Mesa proposal and based on information from the Arizona League of Cities and Towns.

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