Today’s youth didn’t grow up in an era that allowed smoking indoors; they grew up in an era of technology. But inhaling nicotine is now possible — and increasingly popular — through high-tech devices that deliver flavors like “tropical punch” and “gummy bear.”
Twelve percent of 11th graders in the Santa Barbara Unified School District self-reported that they had tried an e-cigarette in the last 30 days, which is a little higher than the 10 percent of high-school teens nationwide who reported using e-cigarettes in 2012. Further, the number of middle and high school students nationwide who reportedly tried an e-cig doubled from 2011 to 2012, according to a report released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in September.
Santa Barbara students were first asked about their e-cigarette use on the California Healthy Kids Survey in fall 2012, according to CADA Program Coordinator Melissa Wilkins. E-cigarettes on campuses are considered drug paraphernalia because students can substitute liquid nicotine with liquid THC, hash oil, and potentially harder drugs. “It’s pretty easy to do,” CADA advisor Luis Gomez said, adding that “Teachers think they’re pencils or something.” Although it is illegal for minors to purchase e-cigarettes, Gomez said kids are buying e-cigarettes in bulk online and then sell them to each other for a dollar or two. “Students who weren’t interested in smoking at all are trying these,” he added.
“I’m not a fan,” said Dos Pueblos High School senior Adriana Dato. “[Teenagers] think they are doing something cool and trendy that’s not bad for them,” adding e-cigarettes are talked about a lot online. E-cigs even mesh with social media. Blu Cigs came out with a rechargeable Smart Pack in 2011 that flashes and vibrates when it is within 50 feet of another device.
It is illegal to sell e-cigarettes to minors per California law, but e-cigarettes are often on the counter at convenience stores. Conventional cigarettes are required to be behind the counter. E-cigarettes are not included in sting operations for conventional cigarettes because officials worry adding a variable could confuse the results. Of the Santa Barbara tobacco retailers scrutinized in a multiagency sting operation in 2013, 16 percent sold cigarettes to an underage decoy, a rate more than double the statewide average.
The Santa Barbara Unified School District recently updated its tobacco policy to include all electronic nicotine delivery systems — e-cigarettes, electronic hookahs, and other vapor-emitting devices — with or without nicotine. Director of Pupil Services Mitch Torina said administrators have seen an uptake of hookah pens and e-cigarettes on campuses.
Several sources said it is too difficult to say if more kids were using the “new toys” to inhale nicotine, marijuana, or non-nicotine liquid. That being said, Ed Cue, who works with minors in Teen Court, said he could only speak for the 100 kids in the program: “I think if they’re going to smoke anything, it’s going to be for an effect.”
Lorraine Waldau, a tobacco consultant for the Santa Barbara County Education Office, said most districts in the county will have updated their tobacco policy to include e-cigarettes by March or April.