Society is battling many social problems that have become front and center such as the homeless problem and the battle that many have with opioids. Both are important issues but a large issue floating under the radar is teenage vaping and the use of e-cigarettes.
Last week, Burbank officials started their campaign to educate and hopefully stem the use of e-cigarettes and vaping among our younger population. The campaign is a result of a grant that the Community Development Department in the City of Burbank received in 2018. The Building & Safety division oversees administration of the grant.
According to Carol-Ann Coates, Building Administration Manager for the City of Burbank, “The California Department of Justice awarded the City the $104,335 grant in 2018 to support the City’s efforts toward combating the illegal sale of tobacco products to minors. The City applied for this grant because it aligns with goals to educate the community on the dangers of tobacco use by youth and to combat the illegal sale of tobacco products, including e-cigarettes, to minors.”
“The City has several program initiatives that will be carried out. During the two-year term of the grant, the Police Department (PD) will conduct two Shoulder Tap and two Decoy operations.”
Burbank Police Sergeant Derek Green said that the department will be overseeing the decoy operation.
“New laws are focused more on cracking down on retailers selling/furnishing tobacco to people under 21, in hopes of stopping at the source the growing epidemic of tobacco use by our youth,” explained Green. “Anyone who furnishes a minor/person under 21 with tobacco products could be charged with contributing to the delinquency of a minor in addition to other penalties.”
“Vaping and the use of nicotine falls under new tobacco laws effective in 2016, which raises the age to 21 to purchase tobacco products, including vaping cartridges. The only exception is active U.S. Military, which is 18 years of age,” according to Green.
While selling the products to anyone under 21 has severe consequences for retailers, there is not much teeth for the police when it comes to possession of e-cigarettes, vapers, cartridges or just lighters and regular cigarettes. Police officers have their hands tied to a point about enforcement.
When asked if a police officer can confiscate any items from a minor if they are in possession, Green stated, “Mere possession of a vaping device (without cartridge) is not illegal. Tobacco products in possession of a minor could be confiscated by officers as evidence, depending on the circumstances.”
It would be up to the City to come up with an ordinance to assist police.
Beverly Hills is trying to stem the problem by outright banning all tobacco products, not just those in possession of minors. This does not mean minors can not possess products or smoking is illegal by adults but it makes it harder to get tobacco products unless they drive to a different city.
Burbank City Councilmember Jess Talamantes is a strong supporter of limiting Burbank’s youth from vaping and smoking in general. “The state has recognized that there is a problem, by first classifying e-cigarettes as tobacco products and than raising the legal age to 21, they are on the right track.”
“The Beverly Hills city council went one step further by banning the sale of almost all tobacco products within city limits. At this point, I’m not certain that a total ban is right for Burbank, but I would like to meet with our City Attorney, Police Chief, Chamber of Commerce and PTA Council to identify the potential benefits and pitfalls of such an ordinance for Burbank.”
Of course he also recognizes that you can draft all the laws and ordinances that you want, but then they will need to be enforced, which will take additional manpower and resources.
“Let’s not forget a vital aspect of the existing laws and any future ordinances In Burbank, is enforcement! I have no doubt that Burbank P.D. is ready to enforce the laws already in place and any potential ordinance in the future, but we have to make sure the PD staffing levels will allow for it,” Talamantes added. “After all, as the Beverly Hills city council said ‘that any potential revenue lost by local businesses is outweighed by the public health benefits.'”
There is already an ordinance in Burbank banning any type of smoking, including vaping, in the Burbank Downtown area. Police are responsible for enforcement.
“Under Business & Professions Codes, vaping falls under California’s Smoke Free Laws and makes vaping illegal anywhere that smoking is prohibited. Under our local smoking ordinances in Burbank (e.g., Downtown Burbank no-smoking), vaping would be prohibited as well,” according to Green.
According to Coates, another part of the grant allowed the City and Burbank Police Department to work together on an educational campaign, “Our Police Department and our Public Information Office (PIO) recently released an educational video on social media targeted to youth and retailers on the dangers and illegality of purchasing e-cigarettes. Community Development is working with PD and PIO on outreach and licensing of tobacco retailers. The City Attorney Office provides legal support as necessary.”
In the video, Know the Risks – E-Cigarettes & Youth, which features Green discussing e-cigarettes and vaping, he states that according to the National Youth Tobacco survey in 2018 tobacco use is up 78% among high school students. He also said that 21% of high school students are using e-cigarettes regularly as well as 5% of middle school students. No mention was made of elementary students but no doubt as younger kids see their older siblings using vapers, they will follow.
With one vape pod equaling the same amount on nicotine as a pack of traditional cigarettes, it is important to not only work on enforcement, but on the education.
Dr. Matt Hill, Superintendent Burbank Unified School District, is also quite concerned about this epidemic overtaking the youth of this country, “The BUSD takes this epidemic seriously. We are working closely with students, parents, the City, BPD, and the community to educate individuals about the harms of vaping. We all need to work together to protect our youth. On July 18, 2019, the BUSD will be discussing this topic at their Board meeting.”
They can not just come out with a blanket uniform education or enforcement because students range from 5 to 19 years old so many factors need to be taken into consideration. When it comes to discipline, Dr. Hill reiterated, “Regarding discipline – it depends on the situation (possessing, using, how many times, etc.) The discipline can range from suspension, to in school suspension, Saturday school, parent conference, etc.”
Obtaining the grant the City is using is only a first step to helping parents in this fight.
It is up to parents to monitor their kids. Vaping is not only done by fringe students, but some of the best and smartest. By having so many flavors available, it has become a social thing for kids to try different flavors and share with their friends. Vaping instruments have also been designed to sometimes look like computer jump drives and other routine items.
Parents need to be on the lookout not only for these devices, but also their children’s spending habits. Some of these cartridges can run $30 and $40 dollars each besides the delivery system, the e-cigarette, which can also be expensive.
It is going to be up to the Burbank City Council down the line when it comes to the laws and how they will be enforced. At this point most of the laws only really apply to the retailer or supplier of the tobacco products and not the user, no matter the age. While the grant was a great first step, “one of the program initiatives is to evaluate our existing regulations and policies. The results of that study will be presented to Council in the future. The subject of smoking and vaping by minors is a concern to the City,” said Coates.
Talamantes put it best when he said, “The health and well-being of Burbank residents and more importantly our youth, is a priority for this Councilmember!”
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Here is the video produced by the City and the Burbank Police Department. PLEASE watch it, watch it twice, talk to your kids. This will only get worse unless everyone takes a stance to make it better!