By Bennett Baker, Print EIC
//“Smoke shops don’t care if you’re 18 or not the majority of the time,” said an Acalanes student who spoke on the condition that his name be withheld for privacy reasons and underage use of tobacco. “They’re not going to sell to somebody that looks like they’re ten just because they’ll get in trouble, but they don’t care, they just want money.”
Due to a series of six tobacco-related bills signed on May 4 by California Governor Jerry Brown, however, the ease of underage access to tobacco may soon be vaporized.
One of the bills, SBX2 5, added electronic cigarettes, commonly known as vapes, to the existing definition of tobacco products. That means the devices, which can be used to vaporize and make inhalable substances ranging from flavored glycerides to tobacco to marijuana, will soon no longer be legally marketed to minors. SBX2 5, authored by Senator Mark Leno, takes effect on June 13, 2016.
In an interview with Blueprint, Assemblywoman Catharine Baker (R- San Ramon) told a reporter that she voted for SBX2 5 because she felt that since e-cigarettes may contain nicotine, they should be subject to the same regulations as traditional cigarettes.
“I felt that it’s important to not ignore the similarities and addictive qualities and the bad health effects of both,” she said.
Also signed into law was SBX2 7, increasing the minimum age for purchasing tobacco products from 18 to 21 years old. Authored by Senator Ed Hernandez, the bill, intended to reduce access to nicotine by adolescents, will take effect on June 9.
“The teenage brain is more susceptible to the addictive nature of nicotine, and in lower doses than older adults,” State Senator Ed Hernandez said in a statement provided to Blueprint. “These new laws will disrupt the chain of youth addiction and ultimately save lives.”
Assemblywoman Baker voted in favor of SBX2 7 because she felt that the same age restrictions which apply to alcohol should also apply to tobacco due to its harmful effects on health.
“I felt it was important to recognize that tobacco is a sufficiently harmful and addictive product not unlike alcohol,” Baker said.
Proponents of the new laws hope that age restrictions on purchasing nicotine products and smoking devices will limit the access teenagers have to potentially harmful substances.
“This increase in the smoking and tobacco product age is not only going to keep those who are 18 to 21 from ever adopting the habit, but also from purchasing it and giving it to someone who’s even younger,” Baker said. “That is an important part of fighting underage tobacco use.”
At Acalanes, it is apparent that the new laws will apply to many underage students who vape both on and off campus.
Despite the new law, the seventeen-year-old Acalanes student noted at the start of this story confirmed that he vapes and believes that “nothing will change” with regard to student use of e-cigarettes despite the new laws. Enforcement of the law will be lax or inconsistent, he said, citing an instance in which he was pulled over by a police officer who saw the vape sitting in his car, and “didn’t even say anything about it, and they knew I wasn’t 18, and they just didn’t even care.”
He began vaping about a year ago in order to stop smoking cigarettes. The student also explained that vaping is an easier, better-smelling, less expensive alternative which allows for control over the amount of nicotine ingested. The student does not vape just to blow clouds of sweet smelling vapor, though some do.
“I have an actual dependence on nicotine,” the student said.
But, to a majority of legislators in California, those who just want to exhale candied clouds are in the same pipeline as those who want to inhale tobacco or pot, which involves students on our campus and administrative scrutiny.
“ I don’t know if I’d call it a problem, but I know it definitely exists,” Campus Supervisor Andy McDonald said, referencing the student use of e-cigarettes.
According to McDonald, student use of vapes is much more common than the use of traditional cigarettes.
According to the 2013 California Healthy Kids Survey, 6.3 percent of 7th graders, 12.4 percent of 9th graders, and 14.3 percent of 11th graders had used e-cigarettes in the past 30 days.
McDonald believes that the greater number of users is due to how easy it is for a student to buy an e-cigarette.
Acalanes Principal Allison Silvestri agrees that ease of access is a contributing factor to student use, but also believes that vaping is more common than smoking because it is easier to hide.
“You have much greater chance of getting away with [vaping] versus lighting an actual physical cigarette,” Silvestri said. “Plus cigarettes will even more quickly set off a fire alarm versus an e-cigarette, although e-cigarettes can, and have.”
The unnamed student source claims that vaping is also much easier to get away with at school because it doesn’t have the tell-tale scent of cigarette smoke. The student even admitted to stealth smoking in multiple areas of the Acalanes campus during school hours, including the bathroom, the library, and even in class.
“It’s harder to get caught vaping because the smell isn’t the same,” confirmed Associate Principal Travis Bell. “It’s not going to linger on you.”
According to Silvestri and Bell, the majority of confiscated tobacco products on campus are the tobacco-based liquids used for vaporizers which come in flavors such as cotton candy, cherry, and bubble gum.
The candy connection to smoking is clear to McDonald. “I mean, who has a bigger sweet tooth more than kids?”
The tobacco industry is “absolutely trying to target kids,” he said.
A number of marketers offer scores of sweet, candy-like vape liquids and so-called juices with colorful, fruity, and sweet looking graphics and packaging. All are readily available to would-be buyers online at ebay and other mass virtual retailers.
An analysis of the 2011-2012 National Youth Tobacco Survey (NYTS) found that e-cigarettes served as a gateway to smoking cigarettes for adolescents. Teen vapers are more likely to progress from experimenting with traditional cigarettes to becoming established smokers and were less likely to quit.
Vapes have provided a media loophole around limits on marketing tobacco use. Calls to both R.J. Reynolds and Philip Morris tobacco companies requesting their comment on whether or not they market e-cigarettes to adolescents were not returned.
Although the advertisement of cigarettes has been banned from television in the United States since 1971, electronic nicotine delivery systems (ENDS) are now marketed on television and other mainstream media channels.
Spending on advertising of ENDS has tripled each year from 2011 to 2013. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), some ENDS companies are using techniques similar to those used by cigarette companies that have been shown in the 2012 Surgeon General’s Report to increase use of cigarettes by youth, including: candy-flavored products; youth-resonant themes such as rebellion, glamour, and sex; celebrity endorsements; and sports and music sponsorships.
Although declining a verbal interview, the CDC provided Blueprint key information and statistics via email about electronic nicotine delivery systems.
According to the CDC, nearly 90 percent of all tobacco users begin before the age of 18, and use progresses during adulthood.
According to the CDC, in 2013, more than a quarter of a million middle and high school students who had never used traditional cigarettes had used e-cigarettes.
During 2011 through 2015, national e-cigarette use increased ten-fold, from 1.5 percent to 16.0 percent among high school students.
According to the State Health Officer’s Report on E-Cigarettes, teen use of e-cigarettes surpassed the use of traditional cigarettes for the first time ever in 2014.
According to the CDC, nicotine use during adolescence can disrupt the formation of brain circuits that control attention, learning, and susceptibility to addiction.
“There is currently no scientific evidence that e-cigarettes are safe to use. Early studies found detectable levels of toxic cancer-causing chemicals, including an ingredient used in anti-freeze,” the American Lung Association said in a statement to Blueprint. “The American Lung Association is concerned about the potential health consequences of using e-cigarettes, especially among youth as this demographic are using e-cigarettes at increasing and alarming rates.”
Although the effects of e-cigarette-use on health are far less researched than those of traditional cigarette-use, it is currently a priority of Acalanes administrators to make sure that students are receiving accurate information on the consequences of vaping.
“[Vaping] is definitely something that needs to be addressed and we need to make sure that students have the correct information when making choices on whether or not they’re going to participate in using e-cigarettes,” Bell said.
Associate Principal Andy Briggs agrees that the community needs to be educated on the risks of vaping.
“Adolescent brains are still developing, and they’re not going to be done until you’re 25 years old, if not older,” Briggs said. “All the studies that I’m reading say that if you start putting that stuff into your head now, it’s going to make you want it more and more later.”
The student admits that the health risks are worrisome.
“I just know it’s bad in general. Obviously the chemical dependence on the nicotine isn’t a good thing,” the student said.
Despite health risks, the student still believes vaping is better than cigarettes.
“I think vaping is better than cigarettes because you can control the amount of nicotine in it and start to wean your way off it. You can start to lower the amounts of nicotine over time– which you can’t do with cigarettes– and get your way off it,” the student said.
Many believe that although the new law was well intended, it will do little to curb student use of e-cigarettes, similar to how other laws restricting minors’ access to drugs and alcohol seem to have little effect.
“I think the new law might make it more difficult for students to get ahold of stuff, but realistically I don’t think it will make any difference,” Briggs said. “Marijuana is illegal but kids seem to have no problem getting marijuana.”
Silvestri agrees with Briggs on the fact that students will continue to purchase potentially harmful products, even at their own detriment.
“Until there’s actually a way to one hundred percent guarantee that students don’t have access, students will always find a way to get what they want, for better or for worse,” Silvestri said.
Adapted from the print version of Blueprint