Vaping devices

Vaping devices that have been confiscated at Windsor High School. 

Gravenstein Health Action Coalition hopes adoption of a tobacco ordinance and permit will help address teen vaping

The Sebastopol City Council voiced support for exploring the creation of an ordinance that would require businesses to obtain tobacco retail licenses to sell tobacco products, including ones used for vaping. 

The council voiced unanimous support for the creation of an ordinance following a presentation by the Gravenstein Health Action Coalition about what regulations the retail license may include. The presentation occurred during the city council’s July 7 meeting. 

In its presentation, the coalition pinpointed 10 provisions of a tobacco retail license, which include:

  • Restrict flavored tobacco products — ban the sale of all flavored tobacco products
  • Restrict sale of e-cigarettes — ban sales of all nicotine e-cigarette devices
  • No discount/coupons — restrict retailers from accepting or offering discounts or coupons on tobacco products
  • Minimum price — set a minimum price of $10 per pack of cigarettes and little cigars
  • Minimum pack size — set a minimum pack size of 5-20 for little cigars
  • Tobacco free pharmacies — prohibit tobacco sales in locations with pharmacies
  • Proximity to schools — not allow tobacco sales within 500 or 1,000 feet of an elementary, middle or high school
  • Significant tobacco retailers — not allow licenses to new retailers who would sell 50% or more of inventory as tobacco products
  • Density limit — No new tobacco retailers, only tobacco retailers operating lawfully at the time of passage would be eligible to receive a license
  • Non-transferability of license — not allow retailers to transfer their tobacco retail license upon sale of the business

Vice Mayor Una Glass said that she worked with the coalition and folks from Sonoma County’s health department to put the presentation together. 

“We are confident that tobacco and nicotine products conflict with our youth’s ability to reach their highest potential. We’re here to discuss how a tobacco retail license could be put into place, why we believe it’s necessary to address the vaping epidemic among our youth today,” said Celosia Arcadia, chair of the Gravenstein Health Action Coalition’s Cradle to Career Committee. 

Arcadia’s presentation focused on how the provisions suggested for the license would ideally help limit how available nicotine and vape products are to local teenagers. 

Arcadia said that, based on survey data regarding e-cigarettes, teens perceive access to tobacco products as easy or above easy, and statistics for Sebastopol show a proportionally larger percentage of students think access to products is easy compared to the county’s average. 

The 2017-18 statistics for tobacco use among high school juniors show 32.1% of students in Sebastopol have used tobacco, whereas in the county as a whole, 26.5% of students have used tobacco.

She said that one of the biggest things that kids are drawn to are flavored tobacco products — e-cigarettes or vape pods that, instead of tasting like nicotine, taste like fruit or desserts. 

Public comment during the discussion was largely in favor of the city establishing a permit process for businesses wanting to sell tobacco products, particularly relating to how the guidelines are geared toward working to prevent teen nicotine use. 

“We’re here because we’re mad and scared, but mostly mad. We’re unwilling to let big tobacco and big vape addict another generation just to pad their bottom line. Sometime we have to put health before profits, and we think that time is now,” said Pam Granger, chair of Tobacco-Free Sonoma County.

“This is a big deal. If you look at how we cope with our own trauma and other things, we oftentimes retreat and use chemicals as a way to self-manage,” said Dr. Jason Cunningham, CEO of West County Health Centers. “We deal mostly with diseases that start early on — COPD, heart disease, stroke, kidney disease, amputations, other things, cancer — and are directly related to smoking.”

Cunningham said that what they’re seeing is that many young people don’t associate vaping with tobacco use.

During council deliberation, Mayor Patrick Slayter asked if the coalition had a way to estimate the impact that COVID-19 has had on youth tobacco use, suggesting that rates may have dropped since students haven’t been able to gather in the same ways they would while at school. 

Ariel Thomas-Urlik, a health information specialist with the Sonoma County Department of Public Health, said that while they don’t have specific data regarding usage, they have seen advertising campaigns directed toward people vaping during shelter-in-place.

“There was an ad called ‘solo break’ which encouraged people to take a solo break during the stress of being quarantined, and particularly the stress of parental text messages by using a vaping product. While we don’t know the exact amount, we do know that the industry is moving very quickly to market to our youth,” she said.

The council was also concerned about whether or not agreeing to move forward with the creation of a tobacco license process would automatically include all 10 of the Health Action-suggested provisions. 

City Manager Larry McLaughlin said that, should the council vote to move forward, the ordinance will be brought forward to the council for a first reading.

“The ordinance at that time will be completely explained to you, you’ll have all of the provisions in front of you,” he said. “The idea this evening is to give you an idea ahead of time how all of these elements work together, how they accomplish the goals.”

“We would be bringing you the most comprehensive ordinance that we can,” McLaughlin said, noting that the council can decide to take out specific provisions in the ordinance if it wishes.

“We have worked on the various aspects of the potential items to go into the ordinance … I would suggest that we direct staff to move forward with working with this group and drafting a potential ordinance with all of the details, the various options, in there and then we can go through those and determine if there’s any items we want to delete,” Glass said. “I would say that this is our job as elected officials. One of the things the government does is set floors, we set standards for our community. Part of our job is to set standards that enforce or create a community where health is the norm.” 

“We need to be as strong as we can be on this ordinance — choose the most stringent, choose the most conservative, choose the most aggressive — whichever category you’re in I think you understand where I’m going with this. The council can then ratchet things back if we feel the need, but to have a standard that’s suggested by practicing professionals in the field of health care is I think what we need to be listening to,” Slayter said.

Editor’s note: In the spring of 2019, Sonoma West Publishers explored teen vaping in its special section “Teens and the Vape Debate.” While significant research has been done in the year since the special section was released, you can view articles from it here. To view a PDF of the section, click here.



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