Originally posted at East Bay Citizen.
By Steven Tavares.

It is too easy to buy a pack of smokes in Hayward, says city staff, and the number of e-cigarette retailers and hookah lounges in the city has risen starkly in recent months. Seven of Hayward’s eight e-cigarette establishments have opened its doors in just the last 11 months, said staff, which urged Tuesday night for a 45-day moratorium virtually every type of new business offering tobacco, e-cigarettes and hookah pipes. The urgency ordinance, called a “timeout” by some council members, was unanimously approved Tuesday night. The moratorium, the city says, will allow their planning department to more clearly define language in the current municipal code that is silent on establishments selling tobacco products in Hayward. It does not affect any current establishments.

Although there was relative uniformity of thought by the council, for instance, most agreed the effects of e-cigarettes is not known and while there is anecdotal evidence electronic nicotine-delivery device may help wean smokers off of cigarettes, some were skeptical about its overall health benefits. The discussion, however, became one of the first instances of a proxy mayoral debate when Councilmember Mark Salinas, one of three members running for mayor this year, including Councilmembers Barbara Halliday and Francisco Zermeno, framed the issue as a public health problem–one Hayward is losing.

Hayward has 146 retailers selling tobacco and other nicotine-delivery devices, which include grocery and liquor stores and shops dedicated solely to selling cigarettes in bulk, said a staff report. “I find it utterly unacceptable that we have 146 stores that sell cigarettes and all this stuff,” said Salinas, who added he received a large number of emails urging against the moratorium emanating from outside of Hayward. “Gaze across our city, every single strip mall and every single corner just about has a cigarette store. Even on the most minimum level, it’s like 146? Really? We can’t even get grocery store in our city, but if you sell tobacco–100 percent–come on down.” Salinas also noted the city’s ranking as one of the unhealthiest cities in Alameda County, according to a 2010 report, as related, in part, with the prevalence of cigarette retailers.

Zermeno shot back, “I do disagree that the 150,000 people that make up Hayward are the unhealthiest of Alameda County. I do believe we ought to fight these negative portrayals of our city. I don’ think they are right and we don’t need to accept them. We are proud city and should be working on the positiveness of Hayward and not negative things somebody may want to say about us.”

Nevertheless, the issue of cigarettes retailers and its related e-cigarettes and hookah establishments could return to the council next month. The 45-day moratorium is set to expire Feb. 28. If city staff indicates a need for additional time to study the issue, a 10-month, 15 day moratorium on new tobacco, e-cigarette and hookah lounges could be enacted with council approval. Similar moratoriums exist all over the state, including locally, in Richmond and Rohnert Park, said city staff. Last November, Union City passed a prohibition on hookah bars and businesses that sell and allow e-cigarettes to be consumed, also known as vaping.

The co-owners of the Hayward vaping store, It Is Vapor 5, said their business cleared $1.2 million in its first year and employs 14 workers earning an average of $12.50 per hour. Stephen Hernandez, co-owner of the shop, claimed his products have helped over 5,000 people quit smoking cigarettes and his establishment was even singled out last year by Rep. Eric Swalwell for being “the model business of the entire area.” Hernandez later asserted nicotine occurs naturally in other foods such as potatoes, various greens and strawberries, which led Mayor Michael Sweeney to later mock his comments. “Instead of putting strawberries on my corn flakes, I should sprinkle some nicotine? Is that really credible?” said Sweeney.

Councilmember Al Mendall said the moratorium would allow the city time to sort through the issue, but he was also skeptical about some studies on the effects of vaping and conceded, “To me they strike me as no worse than tobacco products.” Halliday added, the focus should be on preventing young people from ever getting into the smoking habit, but adults should also retain freedom to decide on their own. “Some though may be helped by e-cigarettes to greatly cut down their nicotine intake. I don’t want us to do anything that might prevent someone from being a little healthier,” she said. “In the end, people need to make their own choices.”