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Atascadero to tighten tobacco regulations 

An increase in smoking and the use of e-cigarettes is pushing the city of Atascadero to expand its smoking ban and incorporate vaping into its smoking ordinances.

The Atascadero Police Department presented potential ordinance changes to the City Council on June 25, saying that common complaints included smoking near schools, bars, and dining areas and in business districts as well as the use of e-cigarettes in public areas where smoking is currently banned. Terrie Banish, who takes care of marketing, promotions, and events for the city, told New Times that the police department regularly responds to a large number of calls about smoking.

"It's a daily occurrence, especially during school season, when school's in session," Banish said.

In addition to expanding the areas of downtown where smoking is banned and banning vaping in those same spaces, the police department wants to create a 500-foot buffer area around Atascadero's schools and make it unlawful for minors to possess tobacco products.

"The backside of the high school is notoriously problematic for the police department," Police Chief Jerel Haley said during the meeting.

In 2016, California repealed a law making possession of tobacco illegal for minors, according to a staff report from the police department. This limits law enforcement's ability to confiscate tobacco products from minors or issue them citations for possession of vaping products or e-cigarettes. Haley assured the City Council, though, that changes to the ordinance wouldn't mean that the police department would be citing minors on their first offense.

"There will be no repercussions for the child. It gives us a tool with which to seize the product," Haley said, adding that on the second or third offense, the department might issue a citation. "It would have to be someone who's pretty resistant to our attempts to keep them from using tobacco."

Residents who spoke during public comment were particularly concerned about student access to vaping products. Several speakers referenced the 2017-18 California Healthy Kids Survey, which found that 26 percent of 11th graders and 8 percent of ninth graders in the Atascadero Unified School District vape or use e-cigarettes.

Julie Jones, who spoke during public comment, asked that the city join dozens of other cities in the state in banning the retail sale of any flavored tobacco within city limits. She said that she learned about the prevalence of students who vape at Atascadero High School after her son started his freshman year.

Another resident with a son who attends Atascadero High told City Council members that students have a running joke about vaping on campus.

"Kids keep saying that they need to remove the toilets and urinals from the vaping room," she said. "That's what they see the bathrooms as, the vaping rooms."

When City Council members asked Haley about the possibility of banning flavored tobacco sales within city limits, he said that it would be a pretty big step for Atascadero.

"That's probably in our future. I don't know that Atascadero wants to be the cutting edge and face some of the legal lawsuits from some of the sellers," Haley said. "My suspicion is that in the next couple of months, we will kind of see it play out in the courts."

Although the city was set to pass the ordinance on June 25, City Clerk Lara Christensen asked that the item be scheduled for another public hearing so the community could be notified about the "substantive" changes requested by the council. Those changes include banning smoking in open air dining areas, along Traffic Way downtown, and within 500 feet of the Colony Park Community Center. The next hearing is set for July 9. Δ

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