Educators and Advocates Rally Against Youth Vaping

On July 30, a rally against big tobacco was held at Livermore Flagpole Plaza to support the June 24 Livermore City Council Tobacco Retail Ordinance. The ordinance establishes a city-wide ban on the sale of all flavored tobacco products, including electronic devices and any fluids that can be used to deliver nicotine in an aerosolized or vaporized form. It takes effect August 8, and will be enforced starting Jan. 1, 2020. All of the 71 tobacco retailers presently in Livermore, as well as future retailers, will be required to follow the ordinance. Particulars concerning exemptions for premium tobacco products will be discussed at a future council meeting.

According to Kristy Wang of Flavors Hook Kids-Livermore, about 100 individuals representing several different age groups attended the rally. Participants displayed signs with messages, such as “Our Kid’s Health is Not for Sale, Stop Big Tobacco” and “Big Tobacco Hooks Kids on Nicotine.”

Juul Labs Inc., a manufacturer of vaping products, has been gathering signatures in Livermore for a referendum to stop the ordinance. While Flavors Hook Kids-Livermore received word that Juul submitted its referendum to the City on July 30, the Independent could not verify that it was submitted as of the Tuesday press deadline. Juul has until August 8 to collect signatures and submit its referendum to the City Clerk. At the point Juul submits the referendum to the City, Livermore would forward the signatures to the Alameda County Registrar of Voters for validation.

In 2018, Juul Labs received a nearly $13 billion investment from Altria Group, the parent company of Philip Morris USA. Philip Morris USA is the largest tobacco company in the U.S. and manufacturer of several well-known cigarette brands.

The Livermore rally was initiated by Flavors Hook Kids-Livermore, a grassroots group founded by three concerned mothers to educate parents and youth about the dangers of flavored tobacco and nicotine products. After the Livermore ordinance was adopted, signature gatherers appeared throughout the city asking citizens to sign a petition for a referendum overturning the ordinance.

The rally speakers featured Dr. Kelly Bowers, Superintendent of Livermore Valley Joint Unified School District (LVJUSD), Craig Bueno, LVJUSD Board President, Jannell Gladen, co-founder of Flavors Hook Kids, and Joanne Morrison from Livermore Indivisible. Speakers discussed the increase in teen vaping and the use of Juul, a nicotine salt-based electronic cigarette that with one use can deliver a quantity of nicotine equivalent to two packs of cigarettes. The Juul pods have many varied tastes, such as cotton candy, Jolly Rancher and Gummy Bear, which are attractive to children and teens.

Matthew Hart, Granada High School Principal, showed a large box full of vaping products confiscated at schools last year. Brett Christopher, Vice Principal of Livermore High School, spoke of eating lunch in the boys’ bathroom every day to keep kids from vaping. Controlling student vaping use, according to Christopher, stops him from attending to many other important duties.

The use of Juul has dramatically increased in North America. A 2018 study indicated a greater than 50% increase in teens reporting that they had vaped in the past month compared to a 2017 study.

A July 25th U.S. House of Representatives Oversight and Reform subcommittee investigation held in Washington, D.C. revealed that Juul Labs, based in San Francisco, “deployed a sophisticated program to enter schools and convey its messaging directly to teenage children,” as well as targeted children at summer camps. The subcommittee heard from two teenagers who stated that Juul representatives met with them along with other classmates with no teachers present. Students were shown how a Juul device operated and “repeatedly” promised that they were “totally safe.” One of the teens reported that meeting with the Juul representatives led their schoolmates to express relief, since the students then felt they “were able to vape without any concern.”

At the House subcommittee investigation, James Monsees, the co-founder of Juul, defended his company, stating its main mission was to help adults quit smoking combustible cigarettes. Monsees noted that the company has discontinued some of its flavored products.