Vaping hurts local children
“The risk of vaping now includes death.”
—California Department of Public Health Advisory issued Sept. 24
A few months ago, the Petaluma Police Department took a complaint from a frustrated parent reporting their 13-year-old son was sold vape supplies at the Empire Smoke and Vape Shop on Petaluma Boulevard North. Because vape supplies are not legally allowed to be sold to anyone under the age of 21 in California, the parent told police that, according to the son, at Empire, “there is a secret code to purchase…you say, ‘I am taking a biology class at SRJC,’ then they will sell to you.”
I called Empire on Monday and spoke with “Kevin,” who denied that such a thing would ever happen at his store. He said the complaining parent was mistaken and that it was probably the Volcano Smoke N Vape shop on East Washington Street that had illegally served the 13-year-old. I called Volcano and spoke with “Sam” who also denied selling vape supplies to minors.
Yet according to results from the latest countywide survey conducted last year by the county’s department of health, more than 17 percent of tobacco retailers in the county sold tobacco products, including vape devices, to young adult investigators. So the kids are, in fact, able to buy these products locally.
Vaping is one of the hottest new trends, especially for young adults. Like smoking cigarettes in the early 1900s, today’s use of e-cigarettes is so very cool and sexy. At least that’s the message used to target teens via social media marketing by San Francisco’s Juul Labs and other leading manufacturers of vaping devices, sales of which have skyrocketed over the last two years.
And boy did those clever “Smoking Evolved” and “Vaporized” campaigns work! Coupled with an enormous variety of appealing sweet and fruity-flavored “e-juice” cannisters that contain up to 40 cigarettes’ worth of nicotine, it did not take long for millions of young people across the country to get hooked, including hundreds right here in Petaluma.
For the uninitiated, vaping is the act of using an electronic device to inhale nicotine, cannabis or other drug into the lungs. The devices come in a wide variety of shapes and sizes and can resemble pens, USB flash drives, even badge-shaped pods, making them easy to conceal from parents. All have a mouthpiece, a reservoir cartridge containing e-liquid, and a heating component powered by a small battery that turns the liquid into an aerosol to be inhaled.
According to the Sonoma County Public Health officials I spoke with, vape devices contain or produce a variety of chemicals for which the impacts on lung tissue is largely unknown. Among them are propylene glycol, found in antifreeze; acetone, found in nail polish remover; formaldehyde, used in embalming fluid; ethylbenzene, found in pesticides; and rubidium, used in fireworks. This is in addition to nicotine, a highly addictive substance which can negatively impact students’ learning, memory and attention while also causing anxiety, mood disorders and the permanent lowering of impulse control, according to the U.S. Surgeon General.
Following a rising number of deaths and lung illnesses across the country linked to vaping, the California Department of Public Health last week issued a stark advisory for “everyone to refrain from vaping, no matter the substance, until current investigations are complete.”