More than 30 percent of high school students in Los Angeles County have reported using e-cigarette products, according to data provided by the 2017-18 California Student Tobacco Survey and the California Healthy Kids Survey.
The alarming statistic comes in the face of potential dangers of vaping as a growing number of young people are winding up in hospitals after suffering from serious lung disease. Some are finding themselves in a coma fighting for their lives.
Los Angeles County is taking steps to ban the sales of flavored tobacco under a proposed ordinance Board of Supervisors will consider next month. It would not allow stores in unincorporated areas to offer any tobacco products with a flavor, including traditional menthol cigarettes, e-cigarettes with fruity pods of liquid nicotine, and cream cigars, mint chewing tobacco, and other products. If approved, the ordinance would be enforced beginning in February 2020.
The American Vaping Association told NBC News that millions of adults vape nicotine each month without any issues as products reach new heights in popularity.
Gisella Benitez, who has a 10th grade student at South Pasadena High School and a 20 year-old who attended South Pasadena schools from kindergarten through 12th grade, is among those deeply concerned about the sales of flavored cigarettes and the harmful effects that could follow.
“Vaping is happening on campus,” she recently told the SPUSD Board of Education. “It’s happening daily. It’s happening out in the open during brunch, during lunch, sometimes even in the classroom.”
She said students are not being held accountable, noting: “They are getting away with what they are doing and, according to the Surgeon General, it’s an epidemic, and we need to do something about it.”
Benitez relayed some statistics from 2018 National Youth Tobacco Survey:
- 3.6 million middle schools and high school students currently use e-cigarettes.
- There has been a 78 percent increase among high schoolers and 48 percent increase among high school students.
- Kids report vaping as early as 12 years old.
- Most kids don’t know that e-cigarettes are high in nicotine.
- Nicotine is one of the most toxic poisons.
- Hundreds of flavored options are available to hook kids on a drug that is known to be as addictive as heroine.
- Nicotine can rewire the brain, particularly for the vulnerable during the developing years – adolescence to the mid 20s.
- Nicotine changes the teen brain and affects attention and memory.
Benitez continued to cite harmful statistics, wrapping up by asking, “What is this district doing (about it), where are the assemblies, where is the education? Where are we in their faces saying ‘you must not do this’? Where are the detectives that I told this board about a year ago?”
In response to concerns, SPUSD Board of Education President Dr. Suzie Abajian said in an email: “The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has stated that e-cigarettes are the most commonly used tobacco product among U.S. middle and high school students. Given this national trend, we need to work together with parents in continuing to educate students regarding the harmful impact of vaping on their physical, emotional and mental well-being.”
Board of Education member Dr. Michele Kipke added: “I think vaping is a very serious problem and one that we should all be focused on.”
According to the CDC:
- The use of e-cigarettes is unsafe for kids, teens, and young adults.
- Most e-cigarettes contain nicotine. Nicotine is highly addictive and can harm adolescent brain development, which continues into the early to mid-20s.
- E-cigarettes can contain other harmful substances besides nicotine.
- Young people who use e-cigarettes may be more likely to smoke cigarettes in the future.
“Moreover,” added Kipke, “manufacturers and sellers of e-cigarettes are aggressively targeting their marketing to middle and high schoolers. They are doing this by introducing flavors and packaging that will be appealing to adolescents.”
Vaping, explained Kipke, is depicted as something that is cool and all over social media. “Manufacturers sponsor music festivals and events,” she said. “They are even offering scholarships. And, e-cigarettes are largely unregulated (as apposed to tobacco products). E-cigarettes are easier to get than tobacco products, cost less than tobacco products, can be used where cigarettes are not allowed.”
In a statement, Barbara Ferrer, director of Los Angeles County Department of Public Health said, “A new generation has become addicted to nicotine through flavored vape products like e-cigarettes. “The epidemic of our youth becoming addicted to nicotine by flavors and flavored tobacco is unacceptable, and we will work to reverse this trend as we partner with others to ensure a tobacco-free generation.”
In findings from the LA County of Public Health, the CDC found that the younger a person is when starting to use tobacco, the more difficult it is to quit. Ninety percent of adult smokers began smoking before the age of 18. Flavored tobacco products are driving youth experimentation and more than 80 percent of youth who ever used a tobacco product started with a flavored product. To reverse the increasing use of e-cigarettes among youth, the CDC recommends state and local government to implement a ban on the sale of flavored tobacco products.
Sales of tobacco products to youth are illegal. In 46 cities in Los Angeles County and the unincorporated areas of Los Angeles County, retailers are required to obtain a license to sell tobacco products. Licenses can be revoked if they are found to be selling to minors.
It’s not the first effort by Benitez to take on the tobacco industry. She was successful in pushing for a city ordinance prohibiting smoking in all public sidewalks, walkways, parkways, curbs and gutters approved by the South Pasadena City Council. Before her actions, the ordinance did not allow smoking in enclosed indoor public places, including public meeting rooms, public restrooms, parks, elevators, bars restaurants, bars, supermarkets, museums, libraries, public transportations facilities. The new ordinance also bans smoking in any area where a child will be walking to and from school.
Benitez’s husband, Ricardo, a nonsmoker died of lung cancer, spearheading her effort to launch the no smoking effort. “I took a tragedy of my husband’s death and made it into something positive for the whole city,” she said following action by the council.