Peachy mango pineapple, strawberry watermelon, chocolate mint — what sounds like a smoothie menu or shelf of candy are actually some of the flavored tobacco products now on the market, all of which will be outlawed by December 4 in the City of Goleta, a decision a majority of the City Council said they were making to protect young people from predatory marketing and nicotine addiction. The city took the 4-1 vote last Tuesday despite pushback from all three 21-and-over smoke shops in the city and a protest from speakers of Middle Eastern descent, who advocated that the traditional use of hookah pipe tobacco be allowed to continue.
Despite being illegal for purchase by minors, vapes and e-cigarettes had been used or sampled by 18 percent of 9th graders and 27 percent of 11th graders surveyed in Santa Barbara County in 2017-2019. Ninety percent of adults who smoked started in their teens, Goleta’s staff report stated, and once flavored products were introduced, vaping doubled among high schoolers. Newly introduced nicotine salts increased the amount of nicotine enjoyed, the staff report went on, and the byproducts inhaled included formaldehyde, lead, nickel, acetaldehyde, and ultrafine metal and silicate particles.
Renata Valladares, a health educator with County Public Health’s Tobacco Prevention and Cannabis Education program, said the Food and Drug Administration, which regulates packaging, rejected nearly a million proposed vape packages because they targeted young people. She went on to comment that disposable vape devices were designed to look like pens, highlighters, and computer flash drives, which made it harder for teachers and administrators to identify them.
Over the course of a two-hour discussion, Goleta’s City Council heard from two dozen commenters, including junior and senior high school students: “Kids try flavored tobacco because they like the taste of it,” said one. Others described going into bathrooms full of kids vaping and how students would vape in class, blowing the vapor into a sweatshirt pocket.
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The city’s retail smoke-shop owners protested that they’d be put out of business, one claiming that tobacco product sales could be as much as 80 percent of business. A number of people during the Zoom meeting on September 21 talked about hookah pipes and how they were an element of Middle Eastern society; they charged it would be discriminatory to remove a traditional molasses- or honey-flavored tobacco.
To those arguments, other speakers, including USC epidemiologist Jessica Barrington-Trimis, countered that the risk factors for young people included not only a hard-to-quit nicotine dependence — especially with nicotine salts being used in vape cartridges to smooth out the taste — but negative cognitive effects for a developing brain. Another stated that unflavored tobacco would remain available for hookah, although Councilmember Roger Aceves was unsettled the ban would end the sale of flavored pipe tobacco, something many of his relatives enjoyed, he said.
Mayor Paula Perotte observed that flavored tobacco targeted children, and she believed the community and the city had a responsibiity to protect them. Councilmember James Kyriaco echoed her sentiment, saying, “Do we want to take proactive steps to protect our children and youth? The answer is a heck yes.” The council opted to give the 32 retailers who sell tobacco in the city an extra 60 days before the new ordinance took effect, or until December 4, 2021, to comply with the ban.
If this all sounds like something you’ve heard before, it’s because you have. The County of Santa Barbara banned flavored tobacco products last year in all unincorporated county areas, and they are also banned in the cities of Carpinteria, Santa Maria, and Guadalupe. The State of California banned them under Senate Bill 793, but that law, signed by Governor Newsom this August, was challenged, and voters will get a chance to vote flavored tobacco products up or down on the November 2022 ballot.