Longtime Visalia resident Roy Kendall became alarmed about the illnesses and deaths caused by vaping and the easy access to tobacco products though vaping by our youth. So he decided to speak in front of the Visalia City Council meeting on October 7 during public comment. Little did he know that the Visalia Unified School District (VUSD) and many other Visalians had decided to do the same.
Kendall asked the city council to place the following ordinance on the next city council meeting’s agenda.
“Ordinance amending the Health Code to prohibit the sale by tobacco retail establishments of electronic cigarettes that require, but have not received, an order from the Food and Drug administration (FDA) approving their marketing; and prohibition the sale and distribution to any person in San Francisco of flavored tobacco products and electronic cigarettes that require, but have not received, an FDA order approving their marketing.”
This same ordinance was passed on June 25 by the San Francisco County Board of Supervisors. It passed 10-0 to amend its health code to ban e-cigarettes. A similar ordinance was passed in Los Angeles on October 2.
In California, 42 counties or cities so far have already taken action to prohibit or restrict the sale of flavored tobacco products or consider ordinances banning the products.
The next speakers at that city council meeting on October 7 were three Mt. Whitney High School students from the Youth Inspire Coalition, a group formed to reduce the number of youths who use tabacco or vape.
Kev Linares said that he wanted to raise awareness of the dangers of vaping and encouraged the city council members to take action.
Jocelyn Resendiz said that much of the problem with young people vaping is that the tobacco industry intentionally created flavors to recruit young Hispanic and Asian users such as Horchata and Boba. She said that students trade the flavored cartridges and hide the vape pens or pods in their backpacks or in their sleeves to use during class.
Alexandria Acevedo told the city council that there has been 1080 illnesses cause by vaping and 18 deaths. Since Acevedo spoke to the council the Center for Disease Control has reported the numbers have increased to 1299 illnesses and 26 deaths. Of the three that have died in California one has been in Tulare County and one in Kings County.
She stated that 31% of people who vape are under 21 years old. To curtail vaping by youths she asked the city council to ban the sales of vaping products next to parks or youth facilities.
Cynthia Sanchez said she raised seven children who all went through Visalia schools and now is raising a grandson. She told the city council that in the beginning she didn’t believe the cartridges contained nicotine because they came in flavors. “But I found out vaping does contain nicotine and I was alarmed,” said Sanchez. “They actually look like flash drives and are very easy for our youth to conceal.”
Sanchez said that stores that sell vaping paraphernalia are close to schools and community centers such as the Boys and Girls Clubs and the YMCA. She wanted the city council to put a ban on these types of products being sold around Visalia’s youth.
Visalia is not unique in its outrage over vaping. According to NPR News, “Schools across the country are so fed up with students vaping on campus that they’re suing the e-cigarette manufacturer Juul Labs. Multiple districts filed lawsuits…including school systems in Olathe, Kan.; St. Charles, Mo.; Long Island, N.Y.; and La Conner, Wash. Three of those suits charge that Juul has hooked a generation of young smokers with its sweet flavors, placing a burden on schools.”
According to Paul Scheibel, Visalia Planning Services Manager, stores selling tobacco products need to come before the city planning department for a Conditional Use Permit, but there is not an established ordinance banning tobacco products from being sold around schools or youth facilities.
Council Member Greg Collins stated that he felt it was appropriate to put this issue on the city council agenda and Mayor Bob Link asked the city staff to put the item on the October 21 city council’s consent calendar. During the meeting the item will be pulled off of the consent calendar and voted on separately by the council. If three or more members vote to put it on the regular calendar an ordinance possibly restricting or banning e-cigarettes will be discussed at the November 4 meeting.
Concurrently to the public speaking out at the council meeting, the Visalia unified School District (VUSD) has been planning a public forum on vape-use among teenagers. The forum has been scheduled for October 24 6:30 – 8:00pm at the El Diamante theater. VUSD is hosting the forum along with the California Health Collaborative, the Visalia Police Department and the Tulare County Office of Education.
A press release put out by VUSD Director of Student Services Frank Escobar said, “The industry is constantly creating new ways to hide evidence of the dangers of vaping, and as a nation we are seeing tragic loss of life due to vaping. It’s critically important that parents become more aware, know what to look for, and be prepared to address it with their child.
“We have now seen kids vaping through the drawstrings of their hoodies,” he added. “The industry is very creative but the harmful impacts on our kids are very real.”