Monday, October 14, 2019     Volume: 20, Issue: 32

Santa Maria Sun / School Scene

The following article was posted on December 12th, 2018, in the Santa Maria Sun - Volume 19, Issue 41 [ Submit a Story ]
The following articles were printed from Santa Maria Sun [] - Volume 19, Issue 41

Legislators consider ways to deter e-cigarette use among teens

By Kasey Bubnash

Electronic cigarette use is rising dramatically among teens.

The number of U.S. high school students who reported e-cigarette use increased by 78 percent between 2017 and 2018 alone, according to the 2018 National Youth Tobacco Survey. Numbers among middle school students rose by 48 percent. This after only 1.5 percent of high school and 0.6 percent of middle school students reported using e-cigarettes in the 2011 survey.

When Assemblyman Jordan Cunningham (R-San Luis Obispo) heard those statistics, he said he found it "alarming," and wondered if either of his own two middle-school-aged children had seen classmates vaping at school. When he asked, Cunningham said they laughed. 

"'Of course, dad,'" Cunningham said his kids told him. "'Everybody is doing that.'"

So on Dec. 5, Cunningham introduced Assembly Bill 131, which, if passed, would aim to deter e-cigarette use among youth by prohibiting "deceptive e-cigarette marketing" geared toward children. 

E-cigarette and e-juice manufacturing companies have been widely criticized for creating nicotine products and flavors that clearly appeal to minors. While it's illegal for individuals under the age of 21 to buy these products, Cunningham said many companies package them in brightly colored boxes reminiscent of kid friendly foods, such as candy packages and juice and cereal boxes. The wide variety of e-juice flavors–ranging from mango and cotton candy, to blueberry jam and "unicorn poop"–are also enticing to kids, Cunningham said. 

And because e-cigarettes are still relatively new to the market and contain nicotine but not tobacco, e-cig manufacturers are allowed to advertise on radio, television, and through social media platforms. Many of those ads overtly target teens, Cunningham said. 

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has criticized the e-cigarette industry for specifically marketing to teens, using brightly colored boxes reminiscent of kid friendly foods, like candy and cereal boxes.

While Cunningham said many of his fellow legislators have introduced bills that would completely ban e-juice flavors, he said his bill would attack "the real problem," while "letting adults live their lives." 

"I don't know if a total ban will necessarily improve public health," Cunningham told the Sun, adding that a few of his friends have used e-cigarettes to quit smoking traditional tobacco, which is thought to be much more harmful than vaping. "But I think everyone agrees that marketing to kids is bad for long-term public health."

The bill would ban e-cigarette and e-juice marketing toward children and make it illegal for manufacturers to package products in a way that is appealing to youth, and it's modeled after similar regulations the tobacco and cannabis industries already adhere to. Features like cartoons, bright colors, and candy-themed flavors would no longer be allowed in e-cig ads or on packages, Cunningham said. 

"I think it's kind of an opportunity for us as a state to get ahead of a problem," Cunningham said, "because we know how this ends."

The Santa Maria City Council considered similar policy changes at a meeting on Dec. 4, where Fighting Back: Santa Maria Valley officials Edith Perez and Edwin Weaver gave a presentation regarding e-cigarettes and their growing prevalence among local youth

Perez, a tobacco use prevention and education specialist, said at the meeting that most kids don't even know the devices contain large amounts of nicotine and cite fun flavors as one of the main reasons they use e-cigarettes. 

Fighting Back is working with local school districts to address the trend through increased education for students and parents, Perez told council members, and Fighting Back met with several superintendents on Dec. 3 to discuss prevention strategies. At some schools, she said educators are confiscating more than eight of these devices per week, and handing out roughly 20 suspensions a month due to e-cigarette use. 

While education can be an effective deterrent, Perez said policy changes at the city and county level could help, too. She suggested council members enact a flavor ban in Santa Maria–although customers could easily go to a neighboring town without a ban to purchase flavors–or a tobacco retail licensing ordinance, which would require retailers hoping to sell tobacco and nicotine products to apply and pay for a license. 

"I think that's something that I personally want to look into," Councilmember Etta Waterfield said at the meeting. 

Several council members seemed to agree, and in an email to the Sun, Councilmember Mike Cordero said he would consider anything that could curb e-cigarette use among youth. 

"The suppliers have done a superb job of marketing and duping the general public," Cordero wrote, "all in the name of making money." 

Staff Writer Kasey Bubnash writes School Scene each week. Information can be sent to the Sun via mail, fax, or email at 

Weekly Poll
Should Santa Maria implement rent control for residents living in mobile home parks?

Yes. Residents in mobile home parks need some sort of protection.
No. The city shouldn't interfere with lease negotiations.
All housing within the city should under rent control.
Rent control hasn't worked in other cities.

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