The city of El Cajon voted unanimously Tuesday to increase fines and conduct more sting operations targeting businesses selling vaping devices and tobacco to minors, and said it would continue discussing permanent bans on some related products.
Stores that illegally sell vape or tobacco products to minors will pay a $2,500 fine. Second and third-time offenders will be slapped with 30 and 60-day license suspensions, and the fourth offense will lead to their tobacco license being stripped.
Offenders will also be wise to learn their lesson the first time, because the city also voted to increase follow-up sting operations.
Store owner James Mitchell said the tighter rules won't impact him.
"As a retailer, I'm OK with issuing stiff penalties to retailers that sell to underage minors," Mitchell said. "We have to protect our kids. You can't make money off the back of our kids."
At least 40 stores were caught selling tobacco products to minors in the city of El Cajon over the last two years, according to El Cajon City Council Member Gary Kendrick.
Discussions on banning sertain vaping products, like flavored vaping liquids, will take place in November.
The move comes as lung-related illnesses linked to the devices rise across the nation.
Kendrick is in support of making changes to the vaping industry.
“We’re in a crisis right now with all of these kids vaping," he said. "We’ve got 7th and 8th graders vaping. The school is asking us to do something about it. We can’t stick our heads in the sand."
Since the end of August, there have been upwards of 800 cases of lung illnesses related to vaping nationwide, more than a dozen of which resulted in death. In San Diego County, 22 illnesses are believed to be tied to vaping devices.
Vape store worker Joey Johnson said he doesn't think the city should ban the the sale of vape products because some people use vape products as a substitute for cigarettes.
"I was smoking two packs a day for four years when I was working on the fishing boats. And I was pronounced dead three times and that I was going to die if I kept smoking," Johnson told NBC 7.
"I was able to finally stop, but because of how much nicotine I was intaking at the time, I needed something to cope with it," he added.
The county has also considered banning the sale of vaping devices and flavored tobacco products in unincorporated areas. The proposal goes to the full Board of Supervisors on Oct. 15.
Critics of proposed bans across the country say the move will limit life-changing options for those who are trying to quit smoking regular cigarettes.
Federal investigators say that nearly 80 percent of people who have come down with the vaping illness reported using products containing THC, the high-inducing chemical found in marijuana. They have not traced the problem to any single product or ingredient. But investigators are increasingly focused on thickeners and additives found in illegal THC cartridges sold on the black market.
"There are negative effects obviously when it comes to the younger generation, but that's why we have shops that ID," Johnson said.