City mulls banning flavored tobacco products

Concern over kids vaping in schools

Cities across the country are grappling with what to do about the rising numbers of children and adults using electronic cigarettes and flavored tobacco products; an increasing number of municipalities are considering taking matters into their own hands. 

The Morgan Hill City Council last week directed City Attorney Donald Larkin to bring forward an ordinance that would ban the sale of all flavored tobacco products in the city. While not all council members Oct. 2 were convinced an all-out ban was the best idea, they wanted to see what the ordinance would look like.

As Larkin gave a presentation to the council at the Oct. 2 meeting, he read off a list of the names of flavored products and presented statistics that showed e-cigarette companies have targeted their marketing toward underage users. 

Flavored tobacco products would include anything from a menthol cigarette to flavored chewing tobacco or a juul pod. The council’s main concern was with underage users vaping with flavored products through e-cigarettes and similar devices; however, the Change Lab study given to council members and referenced in the report showed that children were more likely to use any flavored tobacco product. 

All five council members said they were concerned about the increased incidents of vaping in Morgan Hill’s schools. Police Chief David Swing told the council that school resource officers encounter incidents of vaping “more than once a week.”

“It’s clear from both the product marketing and the flavors that are being produced that they’re designed to appeal to younger consumers,” said Larkin.

The city staff report cited a recent county survey of high school students. 

“Just over one-third of high school students in the county reported having used a tobacco product, and that the overwhelming majority of those respondents used e-cigarettes,” the report stated. “More than 13 percent of high school students identified as current tobacco users, and more than 82 percent of them reported using a flavored tobacco product.”

The minimum age to legally purchase and consume tobacco and vaping products in California is 21. 

Council member Rene Spring was not convinced a full ban was the best idea or would keep the products out of underage users’ hands. 

“People will always have a way of getting something if they want to,” Spring told the council. “I don’t want to punish adults.”

He supported an ordinance coming back to the council, but said he was not sure how he was going to vote. Spring said he would like to see more enforcement on tobacco retailers that may be selling products to children underage. 

Swing told the council that sting operations on tobacco retailers have been conducted in Morgan Hill. Currently, retailers who sell products to underage users are cited. 

If flavored tobacco products are banned in Morgan Hill, the city still cannot regulate online sales. 

Council member Larry Carr, who requested the report be given to council, said he didn’t expect underage use to stop with an ordinance, but it would make an important statement.

He said in his experience, vaping in local schools was a major problem. 

“I know kids at our high schools can’t even get into the bathroom to use it because it’s full of kids vaping,” said Carr.

Council members said they may consider grandfathering in some existing establishments in the city, if they end up enacting a new ordinance regulating flavored tobacco products.

Larkin said, “I’m going to come back with an everything ordinance, but understanding that as we do outreach and talk to people the direction might be to pull out pieces.”

There has been a nationwide concern over vaping in recent months with the Center for Disease Control reporting 48 vaping-related injuries this year and 18 deaths. The Trump administration recently said it would support a ban on vaping.

The CDC has been unable to link one specific product to the vaping-related injuries.

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