Palo Alto is set to hear such a measure at Monday’s council meeting in a move to combat the rising popularity of vaping devices among teens. More than 1 in 6 Santa Clara county high school students say they get devices like Juul at vape shops in the area.
Menlo Park will be considering expediting its own ordinance Tuesday.
These measures come just a few months after Gov. Gavin Newsom signed an executive order requiring stores selling vaping devices to post warnings about the health risks of such products and directing California tax collectors to step up enforcement on the e-cigarette industry.
By cracking down on vape shops in the area, Palo Alto council members hope that it will assuage the numerous complaints by parents who say students’ rampant vape use in restrooms and even inside classrooms has become too much to handle.
In November, San Mateo and Santa Clara Counties set up their own regulations after hearing similar complaints.
San Mateo County voted to expand prohibitions on the sale of flavored tobacco to include previously exempt adult-only smoke shops, and also banned the sale of electronic vaping devices by disallowing sales as city officials renew retailer permits.
Palo Alto councilman Greg Tanaka, who along with two other colleagues introduced the urgency ordinance to be considered Monday, said his high-school aged children have told him that vape use in the classroom is far more common than some might think.
“I wonder a lot about what can be done on an enforcement level,” Tanaka said. “Should middle schoolers be allowed to vape in the classrooms? If the answer’s no, then how do we stop it? Do we put a monitor in the bathroom? Do we put smoke detectors in every bathroom? How much should be done on that level?”
Tanaka said education is another piece of the puzzle, so Palo Alto’s strategy on the issue should be “multi-pronged” and involve campaigns teaching young adults about the adverse health impact of vaping.
The city’s Healthy Cities, Healthy Community working group identified vaping as a top priority to tackle in 2020, and an event is already planned for January asking community leaders to share information and discuss future action. Council members are expected to receive a report and discuss further regulations on e-cigarettes in February.
Meanwhile, Palo Alto Unified School District board members will be asked on Tuesday to show their support for the city’s urgency ordinance as well as to call on Santa Clara, Palo Alto and other Peninsula cities to further crack down on tobacco sales.
Menlo Park city officials will also look at restrictions of their own Tuesday, with plans to regulate other tobacco products in early 2020.
On Nov. 5, Menlo Park council members at a study session directed the city attorney to look at prohibiting vaping in areas where smoking is currently prohibited, expanding the ban to menthol and mint-flavored tobacco products and prohibiting pharmacies from selling tobacco products and e-cigarettes.
Mayor Ray Mueller said the reason for these strict regulations is simple: Area parents have come to him with concerns of an “epidemic of vaping in our schools.”
“The way that these devices have been manufactured you can’t tell if someone has a flash drive or a vape canister. It’s a really difficult thing for a school to keep track of in a classroom,” Mueller said. “For this to be effective we need to be doing this on a county-wide basis and limit the supply.”
Mueller also added there’s an uptick in vaping incidents at area middle schools, which Ravenswood City School District Interim Superintendent Gina Sudaria confirmed.
She said vaping is a teen epidemic across the country, “and our middle school is not immune.”
“Kids do not even see it as a problem,” Sudaria said. “The phrase ‘it’s just vape’ is common. And it’s also at the high school to the point that they have groups where teens share their experience of trying to quit.”
Sudaria also said vapes are a new gateway to harder drugs, and that by banning the sale in Menlo Park “it helps to limit access.”
“Our families don’t know what to look for and our kids don’t know the damage they are doing to themselves,” Sudaria said. “Even though Juul recently stopped flavored vapors, the Juul cartridge has 20 times the nicotine as regular cigarettes. Nicotine for young brains can lead to anxiety or depression, which we see as high in our student survey data.”
There are currently seven smoke shops in Palo Alto and none in Menlo Park, city officials said, though other retailers there still carry e-cigarette products.
Moe Yousef, who owns RAW Smoke Shop on California Avenue in Palo Alto, said that with 60 percent of his sales coming from e-cigarettes and flavored tobacco products the new regulations could put him out of business.
“I’m not saying that vaping is good,” Yousef said. “But it has made a lot of people quit cigarettes which are much worse. Nobody buys cigarettes anymore, and there’s no profit in it. If this goes through it’s going to be very hard for smoke shops to stay in business.”
When he opened his shop in April of this year, Yousef said customers from Palo Alto who were driving to places like Redwood City or Mountain View for vape products were elated to have a shop so close.
He said if Palo Alto passes this measure, it won’t stop those customers from going back to other cities to buy what they need. If anything, Yousef added, it will affect Palo Alto’s sales tax revenue.
But as confident as he is in his defense of these products, Yousef said he’s not likely to attend Monday’s council meeting to protest the ordinance. He said he just wishes they’d take his and other smoke shop owners’ investments into account.
“What I want is that if this goes into effect that they give us a period of time to get rid of our inventory,” Yousef said. “It would be such a big loss for us, and I don’t know how it’s going to go for us to be honest. Hopefully I can keep my doors open.”