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Santa Maria Sun / News

The following article was posted on March 14th, 2014, in the Santa Maria Sun - Volume 15, Issue 1 [ Submit a Story ]
The following articles were printed from Santa Maria Sun [santamariasun.com] - Volume 15, Issue 1

Santa Maria reins in e-cigs

By CAMILLIA LANHAM

Article Download: HealthyStoresHealthyCommSurvey.pdf

Cigars, cigarillos, and electronic cigarettes in mint, chocolate, and gummy bear flavors hang out next to Snickers bars, Sour Patch Kids, and Altoids at the front counters of more than half of the stores in Santa Barbara County, according to the results of a statewide survey.


Flavor vapor
Electronic cigarettes come in a variety of flavors, and recent survey data shows they are often located next to the candy at store checkout counters.
PHOTO COURTESY OF HEALTHY STORES, HEALTHY COMMUNITIES SURVEY
Close to 67 percent of the stores that sell those products are located within 1,000 feet of a school. The data collected in the survey tells a story that’s troubling to Dawn Dunn, program administrator of the Santa Barbara County Public Health Department’s Tobacco Prevention Settlement Program. To illustrate her concerns, Dunn said the use of tiny, flavored cigarillos is on the rise with teenagers, and those teeny, weeny tobacco-packed cigars are cheap—one or two can cost as little as $1 in most of the retail outlets that sell tobacco products.

“You can get one for the price of a candy bar, and it’s packaged to look like a candy bar, and [it’s] in the candy section. So where’s the influence there?” Dunn said. “These influences that maybe adults don’t see are what our kids are exposed to, and maybe they don’t even realize it.”

The Healthy Stores, Healthy Communities survey was conducted throughout California between July and October 2013, and volunteers collected information from about 7,400 stores in 58 counties. Convenience, supermarket, liquor, tobacco, small market, discount, drug, and big-box stores were included in the survey. The study analyzes the availability and marketing of tobacco, alcohol, and food products in stores that sell tobacco. Dunn said it’s the first time all three products were included in the same survey.

Information collected in San Luis Obispo, Santa Barbara, and Ventura counties was combined into one set of data for an area called the Gold Coast. On the Gold Coast, 75.8 percent of the stores surveyed are selling tobacco, alcohol, or sugary drinks near candy at the checkout counter; e-cigarettes are available in 53.2 percent of those establishments. Additionally, 82.1 percent of the stores are selling “alcopops,” which are alcoholic beverages such as Spark’s or Mike’s Hard Lemonade.

Dunn said the results of the survey aren’t exactly surprising, but she did point out that just three years ago, only 11 percent of the stores in California that sold tobacco products sold e-cigarettes. Now the number has jumped to around 45 percent statewide: Santa Barbara County’s numbers are on par with the state, but San Luis Obispo County jumps out ahead with 70 percent of its tobacco retailers selling e-cigs.

“There is a huge influx of those products,” Dunn said. “There’s no regulation.”

E-cigarettes have been on the tobacco scene for a few years now, but have become more popular in the last couple of years. The way Dunn explains it, an electronic cigarette is essentially a battery, a microprocessor, and a cartridge filled with a flavored or non-flavored liquid that often contains nicotine—but sometimes doesn’t. A heating element turns the liquid into vapor, which e-cigarette users then inhale. It’s called vaporizing or vaping.

E-cigarette users sometimes vaporize in public buildings, which has ruffled some feathers in the collective public’s plumage, because while expressing vaporized liquid isn’t strictly illegal indoors, smoking cigarettes is. Santa Maria recently joined the growing number of California cities to classify electronic cigarettes as cigarettes, thus making it illegal to vaporize in city facilities or enclosed public spaces.

The matter came up because someone used an e-cigarette inside the Santa Maria Public Library. Santa Maria is the second city in Santa Barbara County to make the change to its municipal code. Buellton made the change in 2012.

The Santa Maria City Council unanimously voted to add e-cigs to its anti-smoking policy at its March 4 meeting. E-cigarette users who spoke during the public comment portion of the hearing said they didn’t like the idea of being lumped into the same category as smokers. Many speakers told stories about how e-cigarettes helped them quit smoking, because users can chose the amount of nicotine they put in their e-cigarettes.

Dunn also spoke during public comment at the City Council meeting. She said while e-cigarettes are indeed less harmful than traditional cigarettes, they still contain 10 substances on the Proposition 65 list, which categorizes substances that are harmful to humans. Formaldehyde and Benzyne are two of the harmful chemicals contained in e-cigarettes.

During the meeting, City Council member Jack Boysen said he empathized with smokers who are using e-cigarettes to quit because he used to smoke two packs a day, but he added that nicotine is still nicotine.

“There are carcinogens that are released with these vapors, just, obviously, not at the levels as cigarettes or other tobacco products, but safer doesn’t mean that they’re safe,” Boysen said. “ I find it morally reprehensible that these e-cigarettes are being marketed in flavors such as gummy bear, chocolate, and fruit flavors. Clearly they’re targeting children.”

He added that the conversation about how e-cigarettes are being marketed was a task for another day.

Dunn said the public health community at large feels that one of the biggest concerns with e-cigarettes and the other products targeted in the Healthy Stores, Healthy Communities survey is how they’re marketed. And while there isn’t a cohesive plan in mind for how California is going to combat the way certain products are sold, the new data can at least help communities start talking about what they want to do.

“We are just at the beginning of exploring the data and what can be done,” Dunn said. “So we want to work with local community groups, schools, and retailers to figure out what can be done, what’s important, and how to address the data.”

Contact Staff Writer Camillia Lanham at clanham@santamariasun.com.

Article Download: HealthyStoresHealthyCommSurvey.pdf




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