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To curb vaping, Palo Alto weighs ban on e-cigarettes

Three council members propose restricting sales and distribution of vaping equipment

The sale and distribution of vaping products would be banned in Palo Alto under a proposal that the City Council will consider on Dec. 9, 2019. Photo by Getty Images.

Citing ongoing concerns about the health impacts of vaping, three members of the Palo Alto City Council are proposing an urgency law that would ban the sale and distribution of electronic cigarettes.

The proposal from Councilwoman Alison Cormack, Vice Mayor Adrian Fine and Councilman Greg Tanaka follow recent reports about widespread vaping at local schools and a recommendation from the Human Relations Commission, which discussed the topic in September and which made a case for restricting vaping during an Oct. 21 study session with the council.

Gabriel Kralik, chairman of the Human Relations Commission, likened vaping to an acute public health crisis and pointed to the growing number of people who have developed severe lung disease — in some cases, fatal — from vaping. According to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there have been 2,290 cases of lung injury associated with vaping as of Nov. 20, as well as 47 confirmed deaths.

"These products should be taken off the shelves," Kralik said at the Oct. 21 meeting. "They are dangerous. There is no explanation for why people are dying, no explanation for why people are getting serious lung illness, and you have a third of high school students who have vaped in the last month."

Councilwoman Lydia Kou alluded at the meeting to a Santa Clara County-sponsored health conference that she had recently attended. The event included a teen panel, where each speaker mentioned that when they reported vaping activities to teachers and school administrators, no one really did anything, she said.

"Where is the failure there?" she asked.

Tanaka similarly said he was concerned about the high number of students who are reportedly vaping at local schools. Students around Palo Alto are able to obtain vaping products without much trouble, he said. He stressed the importance of actually enforcing restrictions that already exist.

"I just want to make sure that whatever we do is actually effective," Tanaka said.

The council plans to consider the memo on Dec. 9.

A recent countywide survey underscores the extent of the problem. The California Student Tobacco Survey, which was released in August and which considered responses from 6,700 students from 12 schools throughout the county, indicated that 31% of high school students had tried electronic cigarettes and that 13% off those surveyed had vaped within the prior month.

The memo from the three council members calls for preparing an urgency ordinance prohibiting the sale and distribution of all electronic cigarettes, with as few exemptions as possible. They are also requesting that staff identify ways to support legislations that would make it harder for minors to successfully order electronic cigarette products online. This could include, for example, requiring a signature from someone at least 21 years old during delivery.

The memo also recommends that the city allocate $25,000 to a working group of community stakeholders to "develop programs to educate and inform teens and families about the health effects of electronic cigarettes and to address the conditions that lead to teens using them for social reasons or for stress relief."

Palo Alto is part of a broader effort throughout the region to address teen vaping. Just this month, Santa Clara County updated its own retailer permit to expand its prohibition on the sale of flavored tobacco products. The update applies to the prohibition to adult-only smoke shops that make 60% of their sales on tobacco products. As part of the update, it also bans the sale of electronic devices during renewals of retail permits.

Because the county administers and enforces the city's retail requirements for smoking, the expanded prohibition will have a greater impact in Palo Alto, which has seven smoke shops, than it has had in unincorporated parts of the county, according to the memo.

Commissioner Steven Lee noted during the Oct. 21 discussion that the city already has some statutes on the books.

"But when we look around to neighboring communities, we see there is still room to improve in terms of policies on the books, as well as other things we can do in terms of education and funding services that either help prevent teens from using the vaping equipment or help treat (them)," Lee said.

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Comments

3 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 1, 2019 at 9:50 am

This is not something I have a lot of knowledge but the article does little to tell me more.

How many stores in Palo Alto sell vaping materials?

How do people get their vaping materials, are they bought in local stores or bought online?

Is there a "black market" for these products that teens buy from since they are underage?

Do they get their supplies from older siblings?

I remember my Dad telling me how he started to smoke. At the age of 10 or 11 one or other of his friends would "steal" one single cigarette from a parent and take it to wherever they were hanging out together. The one cigarette would be lit and each took a drag before passing it to the next. Is this the same method of passing on the vaping habit today? Or does the fact that our teens have more money and access to online shopping have more to do with how they start?

Will banning the sale in Palo Alto really prevent our teens from vaping? Something tells me no.


17 people like this
Posted by Jase
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Dec 1, 2019 at 9:55 am

Banning doesn’t work. They will just buy it in other cities. Rather see more education in school about the health hazards and long term affects.


3 people like this
Posted by Anonymous
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Dec 1, 2019 at 12:03 pm

I suggest clarity, no drama: inform pre-teens and teens that vaping is physically damaging and prohibited on PAUSD campuses. Age 18 and off campus: it’s their choice then. Administrators need to be clear and in charge.
If Inwere a student, I wouldn’t want second hand vape/nicotine.


5 people like this
Posted by curio
a resident of College Terrace
on Dec 1, 2019 at 2:46 pm

I’d like a survey that shows how many parents of teens vape.


13 people like this
Posted by cartridges too?
a resident of Barron Park
on Dec 1, 2019 at 4:26 pm

Will the CC also ban vaping cartridges? This would make sense if they really wanted to deter underage vaping.


7 people like this
Posted by Paul blanchard
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Dec 1, 2019 at 7:23 pm

While you are at it can you start banning sugar which causes more health problems than ecig, fast food, alcohol and not least cars that injure many more children than ecig.


20 people like this
Posted by teen
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 1, 2019 at 7:26 pm

Alright, for the interest of the argumentative Palo Alto online commenters, I thought you might like a perspective from a real teen currently enrolled in a Palo Alto high school.

Vaping is fairly prevalent among teens in PA. A lot more than the adults would think. I'd say 10-20% of kids use once per month or more frequently. Likely from a friend, but plenty of people own them too. If you pick a random teen, more often than not they will have at least tried it once.

Its not an uncommon occurrence that I'll go into the school bathroom and a trade is going on. Nobody cares too much about it: everyone just keeps to themselves. They're very easy to conceal. I've noticed someone slip a friend their juul to borrow probably a dozen times. Its not just boys, but girls too.

Not a user myself. But if you think a city ban on physical vape sales is going to do ANYTHING about teen vaping in this city you're really mistaken. These things are bought on Instagram, through venmo, amazon, snapchat, etc... Nobody would get it from a store or get it from an adult who gets it from a store. The only people who you would affect by this ban are adults trying to quit smoking.


12 people like this
Posted by Jane
a resident of Mayfield
on Dec 1, 2019 at 10:07 pm

I work at a business on California Avenue and the sheer amount of vaping litter on the street outside the smoke shop is unbelievable. I saw empty Juul (I think) cartridges just lying on the sidewalk, not to mention numerous cigarette butts. If Palo Alto had a ban, I wouldn't mind because at least then there is a less likely chance of litter from Vapes and vape adjacent things on the streets of Palo Alto


15 people like this
Posted by Wife of M.D.
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Dec 1, 2019 at 10:15 pm

Why don't the schools show some documentary on the people who almost died from vaping? Them in the ER, fighting for their lives and interviews. And highlight those who have died of vaping? Sure, some teens will think it won't happen to them, but others will be affected and may quit.

People are better off smoking cigarettes than vaping. Vaping is extremely dangerous: Web Link


16 people like this
Posted by parent
a resident of College Terrace
on Dec 1, 2019 at 10:35 pm

Vaping nicotine is incredibly addictive. My former Paly student got hooked on it in HS and has been unable to stop 4 years in. He purchased his vaping supplies from Mac's Smoke Shop downtown and then the place on Cal Ave, even when underage. I realize that teens can and do purchase vaping supplies online, but a vaping ban would definitely make it more difficult and could potentially keep future teens from getting hooked.


10 people like this
Posted by Bryce
a resident of another community
on Dec 1, 2019 at 11:46 pm

Vaping may cause negative health effects but it isn’t the nicotine or anything else in commercially available vape products that’s causing this lung illness that has been killing people. Drug dealers in states that prohibit marijuana use are selling THC liquid they buy from overseas, but in order to make more money, they are cutting the THC oil with canola, olive or vitamin E oil because it’s a similar color and consistency. The canola oil thins and vaporizes when heated but unlike the vegetable glycerin or propylene glycol that’s used as a base for THC liquid, the canola oil thickens back up in the lungs as it cools down and sticks to the walls of the lungs and bronchi making it much harder if not impossible to breathe. I’ve been vaping almost a decade now and I’ve had my lungs looked at every other year during a physical and I’m told they’re fine. A ban on vaping will only cause people to quit vaping and start smoking. I’m not seeing how cigarette smoking is a better option for lung health. A ban also might cause people to buy nicotine liquid from overseas and I doubt any of it will be PV tested. This whole thing is an overreaction. I wish the media would wait until they hear the entire story before they publish articles. I’m sorry if this is a duplicate. I’m not sure if it’s popping up.


7 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of another community
on Dec 2, 2019 at 12:57 am

These vaping products (some with THC) are flavored with children's flavors like Trix, Honey Nut Cheerios, Fruit Loops Franken Berry, and Captain Crunch.
Clearly, these vaping products with or without THC are being marketed to very young children.
Terrible.
And the sad thing is that they can be purchased online, so I am not sure that prohibiting their sale within the city will have much of an impact.



3 people like this
Posted by Parent
a resident of Southgate
on Dec 2, 2019 at 8:23 am

Curio raises a good point - education and examples start at home.
Are parents practicing what they preach? Many parents use vaping products - how are they doing steering their kids clear when they are busy doing the same?


2 people like this
Posted by musical
a resident of Palo Verde
on Dec 2, 2019 at 9:08 am

I can't imagine children's flavors appealing to high schoolers. I always thought it was marketing towards nostalgia-crazed or senile grandparents.


8 people like this
Posted by Reason
a resident of Los Altos
on Dec 2, 2019 at 9:09 am

People can use vaping as a tool to stop smoking cigarettes. I use to smoke cigars and i used vaping as a tool to stop smoking. I no longer vape. People are ill informed about vaping and all the negative media coverage blaming vaping for illnesses is misguided. You trying to ban vaping is giving Big tobacco exactly what it wants. I see the UK putting vape shops in hospital's and i wonder where we went wrong.


9 people like this
Posted by ALB
a resident of College Terrace
on Dec 2, 2019 at 12:10 pm

ALB is a registered user.

For God's sake BAN vaping period. The governor of MA has ordered the banning of these harmful products statewide.
The prefrontal cortex is not developed until a person turns twenty five. Teenagers or rather some teenagers think it is COOL to vape. Frankly there is so much more nicotine in vaping than in regular tobacco. Addiction is rampant in users of these products. It is the right thing to do on the part of the council to prohibit the sale of these products in our town.


2 people like this
Posted by theAlex
a resident of Midtown
on Dec 2, 2019 at 12:21 pm

theAlex is a registered user.

Strange how people in Europe aren't experiencing any anti-vaping-hysteria. Maybe the air over there is different, or I guess it could be the electricity they use to charge the batteries. I wonder...


6 people like this
Posted by Mark Weiss
a resident of Downtown North
on Dec 2, 2019 at 12:37 pm

Mark Weiss is a registered user.

I heard on KQED that the lung injuries were caused by black market products. So banning e-cigs here would increase not decrease the problem.


Like this comment
Posted by the kids are alright
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Dec 2, 2019 at 12:39 pm

The good news is that Palo Alto youth vaping rates are significantly below the county rates reported above. The majority of our youth are informed and are making healthy choices in regards to vaping. In the most recent California Healthy Kids Survey (2017/18), which preceded the recent vaping health scare, when asked “During the past 30 days how many times did you use electronic cigarettes or other vaping device?” our PAUSD students answered: 1 percent ANY and 0 percent DAILY for 7th graders, 5 percent ANY and 1 percent DAILY for 9th graders, 9 percent ANY and 1 percent DAILY for 11th graders. See Web Link


11 people like this
Posted by regulation over prohibition
a resident of Midtown
on Dec 2, 2019 at 1:49 pm

@reason. Spot on. Maybe you heard the Freakonomics Radio podcast called "The Truth About Vaping" on NPR this weekend: Web Link

The difference between the UK and US is their regulatory approach that results in UK vape products having about 1/4 the nicotine levels of the US product. Juul is not an issue in UK and it is being used successfully to help people stop smoking.

That and what the Paly teen said. Kids order them on-line and trade/use them in the bathrooms. Education and reducing the addiction potential through regulation are more effective than a ban which looks more symbolic than useful.


3 people like this
Posted by Bob
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 2, 2019 at 3:09 pm

If the problem at hand is localized on students vaping on school property -- why isn't the PAUSD School Board involved? The article states that one, or more, of the City Council has "heard" that there is vaping on school property -- presumably in the bath rooms. Does anyone know if the School Board has passed any rules/regulations about vaping in bath rooms? Presumably smoking is banned, so why not also ban vaping? As to enforcement--it would pay to put some teeth into these rules, such as suspension for a couple days. Unfortunately, suspending students has become taboo these days--no matter what the offense.

So .. why go after the retailers when the students themselves are the problem and no one seems to want to hold them accountable for damaging their own bodies?


8 people like this
Posted by theAlex
a resident of Midtown
on Dec 2, 2019 at 3:54 pm

theAlex is a registered user.

I was a pack-a-day smoker for 25 years. This is how I quit smoking without any effort at all:

1) About 2010 I started vaping and smoking. After a year or so, I preferred vaping over smoking, so I just stopped smoking because vaping was more pleasurable.

2)Then I started mixing my own juice, since it's really easy and the cost is trivial.

3) I began to reduce the amount of nicotine I added to the juice over a period of maybe 3 or 4 years. This way I didn't suffer any nicotine withdrawal at all.

4) Finally, a couple of years ago, after vaping juice without nicotine for a while, I found it very easy to just stop.

In summary, it took a trivial amount of effort, I saved a lot of money, and it was a pleasurable process overall. The flavors I vaped were key. They had "silly names" but that's what adult vapers generally like.

There are many communities on Reddit, including /r/electroniccigarette and /r/juicediy, that can help anyone stop smoking. It's a wonderful thing.

Too bad Americans are so "exceptional" that we have a problem with vaping that other countries don't seem to experience. I guess it's all that freedom we're breathing.


9 people like this
Posted by Nanny council
a resident of Community Center
on Dec 2, 2019 at 4:34 pm

Another example of the city council sticking thier noses into the private dealings of the public. This type of behavior by the council goes back decades-- they know what is best for everyone and we the "unwashed masses" just need to sit quietly and let the "not the sharpest knives in the drawer" city council tell us what to do. I remember a few years ago there was some push by the council to ban something else and Liz Kniss, in her usual self-important manner, declared that the council "is the guardian of public health".
Their are plenty of ways to ensure that youth do not vape without a total ban for all. I would also feel better if the council also moved to ban alcohol in the city
Or maybe the city should be looking at the misdeeds of the local police force -- today's op-ed in the daily post details all the acts of malfeasance by the police and the failure of the council to do anything besides paying out millions to the brutalized citizens!!


2 people like this
Posted by PST
a resident of South of Midtown
on Dec 3, 2019 at 9:17 am

PST is a registered user.

I do not think banning vaping will solve anything. I do think it is low hanging fruit for a politician to look like they are doing something. Enforce the laws in place regarding sales to minors better and that will help. Amazing that health and safety are the supposed drivers behind this issue. If our community really cared about health and safety we would ban the sale and ownership of guns within city limits. I'd also disarm the our police for the same reasons until they all receive proper training in crisis deescalation and learn how to obey the new state law that prohibits police from using force unless there is an immediate threat. Now if they draw their weapon, they are trainied to shoot to kill rather than maim. Which is why several years ago improperly trained officers killed a mentally ill resident many yards away from them who posed no immediate threat. It was suicide by cop and they fell for it resulting in an unnecessary killing and trauma to the officers for the rest of their lives.


7 people like this
Posted by Listen to teen
a resident of Midtown
on Dec 3, 2019 at 10:01 am

Listen to teen is a registered user.

@ teen, thank you for sharing. I wish people would listen to you, and other teens, instead of wasting time on useless legislation.

As a parent of teens at Paly, as the teen states, City Council is delusional if they think banning vaping in Palo Alto is going to do anything but affect actual adults who vape. Teens get their Juul pods etc online!!! (see teen's post who explained it best). Yes, it makes a self-serving statement to ban vaping in Palo Alto, but it doesn't even begin to address the problem. Get off your presumptuous high horses City Council members who proposed this and show that you actually know something about the problem instead of making some useless proclamation.


3 people like this
Posted by Wife of M.D.
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Dec 3, 2019 at 4:58 pm

@theAlex: Kudos to you for quitting. Kids will not go through the effort you did. And will the parents stand by and support their weaning? Kids vape when their parents aren't around.

@Listen to teen: City Council is doing what they always do: lip service. They are suggesting banning to make it appear as if they are doing something, knowing full well that it won't curb vaping. We have leash laws, feces pick-up ordinances and Spare-the-Air laws and they are unenforced.

@Bryce: When a 5-year old drowned at Great America, they created the rule that young ages must wear life jackets. There is a law that we must wear seat belts and motorcycle helmets. Sure, there are many who watched their children in the pool and who put on seat belts (me). But there are the other morons who don't do these things, so laws are created for the general public. While you know the ins/outs of the "safe" vaping products, not every vaper does. There is "safe" pot but there is also unsafe pot that is laced. There is no regulation with unprescribed drugs and anyone who tries them is risking their lives.

Americans have an addiction problem that other countries don't, something in the culture.

Many parents party and drink so their children learn from them. Female college students drink until they are unconscious, then complain that they got raped. Parenting has gone down the drain. The majority of parents in the nation do not raise their children respectfully and when kids are not cared for, they run amok. Parents are too busy with their own lives to even talk to their children. And then the parents wonder why their children don't care about them in their old age. If children feel loved, they want to please their parents, simple formula.


4 people like this
Posted by HUTCH 7.62
a resident of Portola Valley
on Dec 3, 2019 at 8:04 pm

LoL hows that 15 ft ban on smoking near a business working? Classic leftist move to pass feel good laws that no one will enforce


Like this comment
Posted by theAlex
a resident of Midtown
on Dec 3, 2019 at 9:37 pm

theAlex is a registered user.

@ Wife of M.D:

My whole point is that it takes no effort, which is what makes it the absolute best way to quit smoking for those that are incapable of the effort. That you would discount the efficacy of vaping to quit smoking, without taking the time to do any research, is irresponsible.

My doctor is also misinformed. Doctors don't have special knowledge unavailable to others. If you cared enough to look into it, you would find that the deaths were linked to black-market, THC cartridges that had a type of vitamin E added to them.

Your assertion that it only happens in this country because of an "addiction problem" is simplistic and irresponsible. I urge you to make the effort to look at the evidence.

Making things illegal encourages dangerous products to enter the marketplace. Remember alcohol prohibition? You are fanning the flames, making this problem even worse.

When things are legal, they can be controlled. I'm sure we can agree on that.

Medical doctors, like many others, ride the same wave of hysteria.

Please stop.


4 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Downtown North
on Dec 5, 2019 at 5:21 am

I wonder how many folks who are against banning vaping are working at JUUL. JUUL has the majority marketshare of vaping products, AND the tout it as a aid for smokers AND it came out of Stanford and Palo Alto, AND they hire and employ folks in Palo Alto. They are based in Palo Alto.

Like another poster said. Vaping is awful and they target teens and youth and middle schoolers. For God's sake, BAN vaping period. These products are highly addictive and target youth. Once kids start, they can't stop. Making it accessible and assuming youth will make wise decisions is faulty logic. This stuff should never have been allowed to be sold without proper regulation, but they were. Now we're playing catchup.

Palo Alto youth ARE addicted. Palo Alto youth VAPE. Before anyone thinks we shouldn't pass a ban, they should really look at the literature of how highly addictive these products are and how damaging they are. VAPING makes cigarette smoking look like child's play.

Vape products are also hitting our sewer system and causing these things to end up in the water system.


Like this comment
Posted by theAlex
a resident of Midtown
on Dec 5, 2019 at 5:38 am

theAlex is a registered user.

@Resident:

No, to answer your question, I'm not employed at all, by anyone. Most tobacco companies are anti-vaping, though, because vaping is a very easy way to quit cigarettes, as I outlined in one of my posts in this comment section.

Maybe YOU are employed by one of the many tobacco companies that are necessarily anti-vaping? I'm sure their stockholders would expect those companies to employ these tactics. In fact, if they didn't employ these tactics, the shareholders could sue the company, since they ARE effective.

Please take the time to look at the facts before you try to influence people with your gut feelings. This is an important issue for people who want to stop smoking cigarettes. You are, in effect, potentially damaging their health.

Thank you, resident


2 people like this
Posted by anonymous
a resident of Midtown
on Dec 5, 2019 at 4:13 pm

If anyone needs a safe place to vape freely if it is banned just go to Paly bathrooms.


Like this comment
Posted by anonymous
a resident of Midtown
on Dec 5, 2019 at 4:16 pm

@ the kids are alright.

HHA HA ha so funny you would think any HS would be honest when asked to report their drug use!! Hilarious.


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