Wood burning bans will now be in effect year-round on Spare the Air days in the Bay Area after a vote last Wednesday by the region's air quality regulatory board.
The Bay Area Air Quality Management District board of directors approved the change at its meeting in San Francisco as part of an effort to protect public health, particularly during wildfires.
Under the previous policy, wood burning was only prohibited when Winter Spare the Air alerts were issued between the months of November and February. Now, it will be banned whenever an alert is issued due to particulate matter pollution reaching unhealthy levels.
Violators of the ban are encouraged to take a wood smoke awareness course or pay $100 if it is their first violation, with increasing fines for subsequent violations.
"As wildfires become increasingly normal in California, it is critical we take action to safeguard public health when wildfire smoke affects air quality," BAAQMD executive director Jack Broadbent said in a news release.
There is an exemption to the ban during PG&E's Public Safety Power Shutoffs or any other loss of power, or when there is no alternate form of heat available, according to the air district.
State sues Juul
California Attorney General Xavier Becerra and Los Angeles County officials sued Juul Labs Inc. in Alameda County Superior Court earlier this month, alleging that the e-cigarette maker illegally sold its products to underage youth and failed to warn of health risks.
The civil lawsuit seeks a court injunction against San Francisco-based Juul and financial fines and penalties. It alleges Juul "engaged in a systematic campaign to target underage California residents."
That campaign has been "wildly successful, with millions of teens and young adults using their product," resulting in allegedly devastating consequences of youth addiction and health problems, the lawsuit claims.
Juul spokesman Austin Finan said the company had not yet reviewed the lawsuit, but said the company is seeking to work with public health and law enforcement officials to combat underage use and to help adult smokers stop using conventional cigarettes.
"Our customer base is the world's 1 billion adult smokers and we do not intend to attract underage users," Finan said in a statement.
The lawsuit includes claims of violations of a state law that prohibits sales of e-cigarettes to youth under the age of 21; unfair targeting of youth in its advertising; false and misleading statements promoting Juul as less harmful than conventional cigarettes; and creation of a public nuisance.
It also claims Juul violated the privacy rights of minors under the age of 18 by keeping the email addresses of those who failed the company's age-verification procedure and then sending them marketing emails.
Juul's battery-operated devices heat liquids containing addictive nicotine salts and flavoring to create an inhalable aerosol, sometimes called a vapor. One traditional Juul cartridge, which provides 200 puffs, contains as much nicotine as a pack of cigarettes, according to the lawsuit.
Inhalation of the aerosol, known as vaping, can cause lung damage in youths and adults and brain damage in youths, the lawsuit says.
As of Nov. 13, the U.S. Centers for Disease Controls has reported 42 deaths, including four in California, and 2,172 cases of lung injury nationwide associated with e-cigarette or vaping product use, according to the lawsuit. It says Juul controls 64 percent of the e-cigarette market.
Becerra was joined in the lawsuit on behalf of the people of California by Los Angeles County District Attorney Jackie Lacey and County Counsel Mary Wickham.
Juul has recently been subject to investigations by the Federal Drug Administration and Federal Trade Commission and lawsuits by parents and school districts.
Finan noted that as part of its efforts to combat underage use, the company recently stopped accepting orders for mint-flavored cartridges and suspended all broadcast, print, and digital advertising in the U.S. It previously stopped selling four other flavors popular with youths.
Problems at county youth center
During its Tuesday meeting, the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors were scrambling to find a solution for sheltering youth who are currently in the custody of the county's Receiving, Assessment and Intake Center.
According to the county, children who enter the custody of the RAIC have been remaining there for weeks or months at a time, while the center was designed and opened in 2009 to hold minors only for up to 24 hours before they were matched with a long-term shelter or housing option.
The children are often facing trauma and behavioral issues and can find it challenging and unsafe to be in the RAIC for longer than necessary prior to finding a living arrangement.
The board has been trying to ratify an alternative plan for youth placement since it asked county staff on Nov. 5 to come up with a plan for the center.
Children had been staying at the RAIC for longer than 24 hours for several months prior to that meeting.
"We have acted with a lack of sense of urgency, and I have felt that since I got here," said Supervisor Cindy Chavez, who first joined the board in 2013. "I think it's systemic and I think it's a problem."
Chavez said she wants the county to find a solution to its RAIC problems before the end of the year.
According to the county, 672 children were removed from a caregiver and required out-of-home placement between January and September of this year.
Of those 672, 176 were placed directly with a family member or foster parent, and the other 564 were taken to the RAIC.
Dr. Jeff Smith, the county executive, mentioned that an interim solution, for youth needing safe shelter, other than shelter at the RAIC, could be a hotel or motel or a spare bed in a hospital.
Supervisor Dave Cortese asked county staff to return to the board with more information on solutions by the next board meeting and board president Joe Simitian echoed the need for urgency.
"What I've heard almost everyone say in one way, shape or form is 'We've got to rethink the system,' and that's not going to happen, let alone get implemented on the quick, which is why if you want a better outcome for these kids right away, we can't let that bigger-picture, longer-term thinking get in the way of an immediate resolution," Simitian said.
Simitian added, "I think we may be at the place where if we have to have a conversation as lengthy and difficult as this one is at every board meeting in order to get this solved, so be it."
—Bay City News Service