After the La Mesa City Council on July 8 heard assistant city manager Yvonne Garrett's report recommending a ban on electronic smoking devices in locations where tobacco smoking is prohibited, vice mayor Kristine Alessio produced an electronic cigarette and asked, "Did anyone on the staff actually ever try an e-cigarette?"
As Garrett replied, "I can't say they have," Alessio vaped.
She then lit a cigarette, took a puff, and blew out the smoke.
"No smoking in the buildings," mayor Art Madrid said.
"Demonstration only," Alessio said while dousing the cigarette in a plastic water bottle. She noted the difference between the smoke produced by the device and cigarette. "I see a huge difference; I smell a huge difference." She mentioned health and enforcement and asked, "Are we going to ban chewing nicotine gum in the parks?"
Alessio said she didn't inhale. She later cast the only vote against a motion for city staff to draft an ordinance prohibiting electronic smoking devices in restaurants, stores, places of employment (except designated smoking areas), parks, and within 50 feet of playgrounds. Devices include electronic cigarettes, cigars, pipes, and hookahs.
Alessio, a former smoker, said her 26-year-long habit started at age 15. "I didn't inhale because I didn't want to become addicted to nicotine again."
Her demonstration produced several reactions. "I'm allergic," said councilman Ernie Ewin. As he rose and opened a door leading outside, councilwoman Ruth Sterling fanned the air.
Ewin then sat in the audience as public testimony began. All six speakers supported regulation.
Lois Knowlton said she spoke for the La Mesa First United Methodist Church's outreach committee and leadership. "Every church wants to protect our children from health hazards."
Resident Lisa Bridges said her 17-year-old son and his friends "seem to think vaping is safer and can't lead to other things." She called hookah pens an "opportunity for deception," saying that news reports indicated people put "substances like hashish oil in them."
When testimony ended, Ewin returned to the dais. He spoke about making things "clearer" about cigarette smoking in public if the council called for an ordinance. "People have a right to go from here to there without being caught up in second-hand smoke." He added, "I could be brought back into line" about the issue by his colleagues.
Sterling said, "That's exactly why we have to be careful. Government takes a little, and they want more and more." She praised Garrett's report and said she was concerned about pens "because of what they can put in them."
Alessio called the proposed regulation "government overreach," saying there were existing laws about under-age sales.
Madrid said he brought up the issue on January 28 at the request of residents whose concerns included under-age use of electronic products.
The council again discussed the issue on March 25 and requested the staff report.
Since then, councilman Mark Arapostathis said he spoke to restaurant and business owners. Arapostathis said businesspeople told him, "They need the government to come in because people don't take personal responsibility. It's toiling to ask people 'Could you not blow smoke in that person's face?' "
City attorney Glenn Sabine said violating the ordinance would be a misdemeanor with a penalty of up to $1000 and/or a year in jail. He said that "rarely happens" and the crime is generally reduced to an infraction costing "a couple hundred dollars."
The council will vote on the ordinance at the July 22 meeting.