Healthy Roster — Terese Voge, health program manager, Ariel Thomas-Urlik, health information specialist II, Jay Macedo, program planning and education analyst and Greg Damron, health information specialist II, from left, stand outside their office in Santa Rosa. They, along with Carley Moore, senior health information specialist, Allison Berk, health information specialist II, and Ana Quintana, senior office assistant, are the Impact Sonoma team that works to prevent and combat underage vaping.

Study shows education is needed for tobacco retailers

Vaping laws are constantly changing as the relatively new technology is addressed by legislators. Many times, vaping is regulated similarly to smoked tobacco or cannabis consumption respective of what is being vaped.

In California, legal vapers must be at least 21 years old.

Terese Voge, Sonoma County Department of Health Services health program manager, said that the county takes a multi-pronged approach to enforcement of underage vaping.

One of the areas focused on by the county to curb underage vaping is at the cash register for all tobacco products. This is due to the stated ease with which minors that do smoke or vape purchase their devices.

The county cites that nationwide 98.5% of tobacco purchases were made at a store, as opposed to buying them from a friend.

County law requires any individual who does not appear 27 years old or older to show a valid ID before they can purchase vape products. However, according to the Young Adult Tobacco Purchase Survey (YATPS), one in five retailers did not check for ID.

“Of the 164 tobacco retailers surveyed, 28 retailers, 17.1%, sold tobacco products to a young adult under the age of 21. Twelve of the stores were gas/convenience stores, eight were small, non-chain markets, four were liquor stores, two were large markets, one was a large grocery store chain and one was a donut shop,” according to the YATPS report.

Overall tobacco products were requested because “many of the retailers in the target sample did not carry e-cigarettes (i.e., Juul, Vuse, or Blu).”

“E-cigarette was requested 37.4% of the time,” during the survey, of combustible tobacco products sold.

“The high local sales rate of 17% is similar to the state’s tobacco sales to young adults of 19%,” the report concludes.

Even when checking underage “investigators’” ID, clerks would examine and still sell the product in some cases, according to YATPS.

“Also, qualitative data indicate that several other cashiers almost sold to youth and need more training,” the report states.

“The survey revealed that retailers need instruction on asking for identification to ensure this is standardized procedure across all retailers,” Voge wrote. “Moreover, retailers need instruction on how to properly check identification for the legal age. Further, reminders need to be sent that the legal age of tobacco purchase is 21. Retail owners and managers could benefit from tools and internal policies that emphasize a clerk’s role in following the law.”

And while the role of the Sonoma County Health Services is to educate offenders, the county also enforces the law through more punitive measures with the Sheriff’s Office.

Consequences of selling to a minor can vary from a fine to suspension of license to charges for contributing to the delinquency of a minor, depending on the severity of the offense.

New Culture

The county is trying to create a culture where vaping does not have the sleek appeal that some advertisements suggest, similar to how the glamour of tobacco has been largely eliminated from today’s culture.

“We want to appeal to people’s own senses,” Voge said.

Vape products lack the negative qualities of traditional smoking, such as smell, harshness and coughing, though those are not eliminated. Still, it makes for a new challenge when trying to show the risks of vaping to people who tend to favor more risk-prone behavior.

But, even if someone decides to vape, the county still provides services.

The county works with schools and students not only to prevent use, but to help with addiction when a student decides to quit.

At the Santa Rosa Junior College health center, students are asked specifically if they vape when they come in, and can be directed to cessation programs if they desire.

Voge said that people who successfully quit during smoking cessation programs can also serve as spokespeople for cessation.

Flavor Ban

Windsor has a special ordinance which further regulates vaping. The ordinance bans flavored vape pens as well as flavored juice for vape mods.

During a Windsor Wellness meeting in town, Greg Damron, health information specialist II with the county, came to talk about Windsor’s success with the ordinance.

“This was a major step forward,” Damron said of the ordinance, citing how flavored products have been shown to be more attractive to younger potential vapers.

Damron said that the county worked closely with the town to craft the ordinance.

According to Voge, Changelab Solutions and Center for Policy and Organizing are two institutions the county has drawn on for models for legislation, which it has shared with municipalities.

Damron said that strict regulation of vape products would not in his opinion raise the risk of a vaping black market, as there is little room for profit and illegal purchases through traditional means, like using a fake ID, are still common.

Cloverdale also has a flavor ban on its tobacco products, which includes vaping. This does not include the flavor menthol, a traditional mint-like flavor which has been used in cigarettes for decades.

In addition, Cloverdale does not allow pharmacies to sell vaping products.

Apartments and hotels­

Cloverdale, Sebastopol and Windsor do not allow vaping or smoking in multi-family complexes and Healdsburg has recently amended its ordinance to include this prohibition.

These regulations help protect youth from secondhand exposure, as they are especially susceptible to it and the rule accounts for the possibility of apartment complexes using common air-conditioning and heating ducts.

Healdsburg’s new update will now also ban smoking in all of its hotels.

In Sebastopol, vaping is allowed in up to 20% of hotels in the city, according to the municipal code. And a person may vape in a theater as part of the performance, so long as it is an integral part of the show.

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