In 1987, California was the fist state to eliminate smoking on all forms of transit. One year later, California voters passed Proposition 99, the Tobacco Tax and Health Protection Act, increasing taxes on cigarettes by 25 cents. Ours was the first state to use a tobacco tax for prevention and that tax was increased through the passage of Prop 56 in 2016.
Even though the state’s adult smoking rate has dropped 51 percent since the passage of Prop 99, there has been a dramatic rise in e-cigarette use among teens and young adults.
It looks like California will have to take the lead again in the effort to combat tobacco use and the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors have heard the call.
On Oct. 1, Supervisors voted unanimously to ban flavored tobacco products, including menthol. The ordinance will take effect November 1 and those products are to be pulled from store shelves in all unincorporated areas of L.A.
LA County Department of Public Health (Public Health) Director Barbara Ferrer said that a compliance check showed that one in four shops inspected sold to underage customers.
In addition to the ban, Supervisors Solis and Kuehl also made a motion recommending a five-signature letter be sent to Gov. Gavin Newsom, urging him to take necessary actions to temporarily prohibit the sale of all vaping products in the state until U.S. public health officials determine the safety of those products and the causes of recent vaping-related injuries and deaths.
As of this writing, the CDC had reported 1080 probable cases of lung disease associated with e-cigarette or vaping use. Eighteen deaths have been confirmed.
Although no one knows the long-term effects of e-cigarette use, the California Department of Public Health recently released an advisory urging people to “refrain from vaping, no matter the substance or source, until current investigations are complete.”
It’s estimated that 16 percent of all 11th graders are currently using e-cigs and there are thousands of flavors available. Additionally, one out of three cigarettes sold in the U.S. are menthols. And they are the preferred product of most African American tobacco consumers.
Tobacco Free CA believes that tobacco companies have deliberately and aggressively advertised to minority populations and that menthol cigarettes are more addictive and increase a person’s chance for lung disease. These cigarettes are known as the tobacco industry’s “starter kit” because of their mint flavor.
Menthol cigarettes are also considered a gateway product to an unhealthy and additive habit for young people.
“We have a responsibility to care for them and make sure the environment is safe” said Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas.
Under the new ordinance, tobacco retailers must obtain new, required licenses and clear their shelves of flavored tobacco products.
Online sales will not be prohibited and users will not be punished under the ordinance, according to county lawyers.
Opponents of the new ordinance believe that now menthol and flavored vape products will show up on the streets in the unincorporated areas of LA County. And there’s no regulating the black market.
“The new County tobacco ordinance is intended to restrict flavors that are appealing to youth and not regular tobacco flavor,” said Dr. Tony Kuo, director of the Division of Chronic Disease and Injury Prevention at the Public Health. “While black markets do exist for tobacco products, they are not new. The County has taken into account the need for access to cessation aids for those who are attempting to quit,” Kuo added. “These resources can be found on LAQuits.com and the 1-800-NO-BUTTS quitline.”
Kuo’s division is leading efforts to address the vaping epidemic in LA County.
“The fact of the matter is, most manufacturers of e-cigarettes and other vape devices have not formally undergone the FDA process to obtain approval for use of their products as cessation aids,” Kuo said.
According to the California Department of Public Health, nicotine is addictive and also a neurotoxin that can plague the teenage brain with anxiety, irritability and impulsivity. One pod of a popular vaping product ha as much nicotine as an entire pack of regular cigarettes.
In 2004, the U.S. Surgeon General’s Report concluded that smoking harms nearly every major organ in the body. Additionally, The Tobacco Free CA organization reports that e-cigarettes produce a toxic aerosol with at least 10 chemicals that cause cancer and reproductive harm.