Letters to the editor

Thank you for standing against the tobacco industry

In the past three years, as a tobacco compliance inspector, I traveled all over west county to monitor stores. A recent undercover purchase survey I conducted with teens revealed the sales rate to underage purchasers was 1 out of 6 stores across the county. I witnessed how easily youth were able to buy vaping products from stores. And these were teens trained to state their true age and show a valid California ID when asked.

Time after time, brazen or indifferent cashiers knowingly sold to youth illegally. Over the past few months, I accompanied members of the Gravenstein Health Action Committee to do Sebastopol retailer outreach. During tobacco retailer store visits with them in 2020, I witnessed a Sebastopol smoke shop manager denounce the FDA for, in his opinion, preaching false science and not validating vapes, according to his assumed expertise, as a safe cessation method (despite a growing body of evidence that propellants, toxic flavors and heavy metals damage lungs and throat tissue). This same manager mocked the CDC’s and regional health officers’ 2019 alerts about vaping product use-associated lung injury, pointing to a huge inventory of sweet and candy flavored vapes as being perfectly safe. And, this same manager couldn’t resist actually smoking an e-cigarette in front me and the other volunteer.

Visiting other Sebastopol stores, we discovered that most retailers had experienced underage individuals attempting to buy tobacco in the city. We also discovered that most retailers were unaware that the FDA had changed the age exemption for military service people in 2019 from 18 to age 21. This is no surprise given how seldom the FDA has performed decoy Ops.

How long would retailers have sold to service people if we hadn’t alerted them to the law shift? In the past year we have received complaints from parents and reports from school resource officers of smoke shops across the county regularly selling to youth. Sebastopol’s strong ordinance is a big step in tackling these problems. Many, thanks to Sebastopol’s medical and public health community, educators, parents, and youth taking a stand to stop the teen vaping epidemic! Thanks also to the many concerned Sebastopol residents who shared with us their heart-breaking personal stories of losing loved ones to tobacco. Thank you, Sebastopol City Council for taking a key step in protecting youth from a life time of addiction, disease and exploitation by the tobacco industry.

Greg Damron

Santa Rosa

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