The Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors advanced a proposed ordinance amendment on Tuesday to ban the sale of flavored tobacco products in the unincorporated areas of the county.
The 4-1 vote, with Fourth District Supervisor Peter Adam dissenting, allows an amended ordinance to provide strengthened public health requirements for tobacco retailers to prevent youth exposure to tobacco, including electronic smoking devices.
In addition to banning the sale of flavored tobacco products, the ordinance amendment would cover small inexpensive packs, and prohibit mail-order delivery of tobacco products.
The amendment also would ban coupons to purchase a discounted tobacco product, prohibit the sale of any tobacco product to a consumer through a multiple-package discount, and not allow any product to be provided to people for less than the full retail price.
Adam couldn’t support the ordinance in its present form.
“I think this is a bit of an overreach,” Adam said. “If it was just about the vaping I would be inclined to support it, but since this goes into things that are traditionally legal, normal and customary, I don’t think I’m going to be able to support it.”
The ordinance amendment did not mention marijuana vaping, Adam said.
Some products have traditionally been legal, he said.
California’s legal smoking age and the age to buy tobacco products is 21, except for active duty military 18 or older.
“I don’t think we are trying hard enough to enforce something that’s already illegal, and now we are just going to ban it,” he said.
The ordinance will return to the board for final approval, likely on the administrative agenda at the scheduled Dec. 17 meeting in Santa Maria.
If approved, the ordinance amendment will take effect 90 days from its passage.
A local ordinance is the best way to protect youth and provide better health outcomes in the future, said Van Do-Reynoso, director of the county Public Health Department.
The amendment provides a multi-pronged approach to address underage nicotine use and regulate businesses to prevent youth access to nicotine and tobacco products, said Shantal Hover, coordinator of the county Public Health Department’s Tobacco Prevention Program.
E-cigarettes are the most popular tobacco product among youth, Hover said.
Between 2016 and 2018, the use of e-cigarettes almost doubled from 6% to 10% in ninth-graders, and 8% to 15% in 11th-graders in the county, according to California Healthy Kids Survey.
The majority of tobacco-using youth start with flavored products, and the tobacco industry is promoting its products on social media, and coupons are encouraging consumption, Hover said.
Vaping products can be appealing to beginner smokers and can lead to lifelong addiction, she said.
“Predatory marketing directly targets youth, making these products look appealing, youth-friendly, cheap and socially acceptable,” Hover said.
During her presentation, Hover displayed colorful images of product packaging replicating youth-friendly foods such as vanilla and caramel ice cream, apple juice and pop tart pastries. Products are targeted at kids and made to mimic popular snacks or candies such as gummy bears and peanut butter cups, she said.
Flavored products mask the harsh taste of tobacco and are easier to inhale, Hover said, and some products are cheaper than regular cigarettes.
Hover showed easy-to-conceal devices that have camouflage boxy designs and often look like credit cards, pens, USB flash drives and smartwatches.
Gloves and hoodies can make it hard to spot signs that kids might be vaping because devices can be used secretly.
“It makes it easy for kids to use them in classrooms,” she said.
Internet and mail order delivery of tobacco products, especially electronic smoking devices, is an unregulated mechanism for youth to gain access to these products in the county, according to Hover.
Nicotine is poisonous and it can have disastrous effects on the developing brains of children, Hover said.
Juul Labs Inc., the maker of the e-cigarette that is popular with teenagers, sells nicotine pods. A Juul pod contains roughly 41 cigarettes, Hover said.
“Youth and young adults often smoke one to four pods per day,” Hover said. “Our concern is young people are being introduced to a high amount of nicotine, developing a tolerance quickly and becoming addicted.”
Young students and their advocates turned out in force at the meeting in Santa Barbara. About three dozen people spoke during public comment on Tuesday.
The majority of people favored a ban on all flavored tobacco products in the unincorporated areas of the county.
Attendees held signs reading “Protect our youth” and “Ban flavored tobacco!”
UC Santa Barbara student Allison Adam lives in Isla Vista, and she said the “vaping problem is prolific” and it has been “completely normalized” in the community. Vaping addiction is decreasing the quality of life, she said.
“If the problem was students bringing mini alcohol bottles to school, it would be no question of a solution to be acted upon,” Adam said.
Sholeh Jahangir, Goleta Union School District trustee, said her mother — a chain smoker in the 1970s and 1980s —died from smoking-related complications.
Jahangir, a mother, had seen firsthand the dangers of nicotine use.
“I don’t want my child to die like my mother did,” she said, mentioning that her kid was pressured by a friend into trying vaping.
“Cigarette companies are profiting off our babies, our children, and that’s not a scare tactic, that’s the truth,” she said. “It takes a lot of courage to stand up for those who are little and don’t have voices.”
Santa Barbara Unified School District board President Wendy Sims-Moten advocated for protecting young people from potentially fatal and harmful products.
“It’s about our children,” Sims-Moten said. “It’s just that simple.”
Eleven-year-old Quentin Moore stood alongside his mother, Diane. The boy wore a blue-colored T-shirt saying, “It’s not like you can buy a new brain.”
He urged the Board of Supervisors to adopt the all-flavor ban and described nicotine as “gross.”
Quentin’s older brother was addicted to nicotine last year, he said.
“My brother was nice, kind and smart before the nicotine started taking over his brain,” Quentin said. “Once I knew my brother was addicted, I started getting scared, like really scared, he was banging on the walls.”
Vanessa Ramirez Garcia, a member of Future Leaders of America and a Dos Pueblos High School junior, fought back tears as she spoke.
“Right now, I should be on my way to my next class, but I have to be here to advocate for all of my friends who have been in this deep hole of addiction,” she said. “We have been targeted and sometimes it feels like it’s too late.”
A handful of local retailers and tobacco business employees opposed the idea of an amendment. They cited age verification on sales of the products and public education.
Local store owner Isis Dominguez said companies had all changed their product labels to have “more mature designs,” and some had been sent cease-and-desist letters from the state, Dominguez said.
“If you go into my store today, you would not see a single one of these depicted e-liquid brands,” Dominguez said.
Quick and decisive action by policymakers is important, Second District Supervisor Gregg Hart said.
“The faster we can get this into law the better,” Hart said, later adding, “It won’t solve this problem entirely, but it is the first step, and we need it today.”
Third District Supervisor Joan Hartmann said she had no idea vaping had become such a critical issue for educators in classrooms, and she is reeling from the stories of families and friends struggling with addiction.
The trickery to lure children and vulnerable people into addiction so that others can profit is unconscionable, she said.
“This is a scourge, and it is a stealthy one,” Hartmann said, later adding, “Somehow these stories of how it’s impacting people is more than I ever expected.”