WATSONVILLE—The Watsonville City Council on Tuesday unanimously approved a sweeping ban on the sale of various tobacco products.
Starting in late November, the sale of flavored tobacco, e-cigarettes and vapes will be outlawed, and pharmacies operating in city limits will no longer be able to sell tobacco products.
The approval received a loud applause from the two dozen high school students and youth health advocates that packed the council chambers and held signs reading “Escape the Vape” and “JUUL Sucks.”
Watsonville joins 43 other jurisdictions in California that have recently banned flavored tobacco products, including the County of Santa Cruz as well as the City of Capitola and City of Santa Cruz. But the additional ban of e-cigarettes and vapes and the sale of tobacco in pharmacies puts the city at the forefront of a growing call for prohibitions on tobacco and related smoking products.
San Francisco earlier this year became the first city in the nation to ban e-cigarettes and vapes, and the City of Los Angeles is also weighing a similar ban that would outlaw the trending product until it is deemed safe by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
“Anything that is effective and anything that starts social change starts at the grassroots level,” said Watsonville Chief of Police David Honda. “It’s on us to take the lead and have the rest of the state and country follow us.”
City staff initially proposed a ban on flavored tobacco products but added e-cigarettes and vapes after a recent uptick in vaping-related lung injuries. More than 1,000 people have been diagnosed with severe lung problems, and 18 deaths nationwide have been linked with vaping.
The California Department of Public Health last month issued a health advisory urging citizens to refrain from vaping, no matter the substance or source, until investigations into the reported injuries and deaths have been completed. And Governor Gavin Newsom on Sept. 16 signed an executive order to have the CDPH launch a $20 million statewide digital and social media public awareness campaign to educate residents about the health risks of vaping.
According to city staff, 40 percent of the city’s licensed tobacco retailers sell e-cigarettes and flavored vaping tobacco, 75 percent sell flavored cigars and 48 percent sell flavored tobacco.
Jakob Alqadri who owns 831 Smoke Shop on Freedom Boulevard told the Pajaronian before Tuesday night’s meeting that losing the flavored tobacco market would severely diminish his company’s earning power.
Not being able to sell e-cigarettes or vaping products could threaten the viability of his business, he said.
“It’s more than just a person behind the counter, it’s a family that has to pay bills — the house, car, food — that you’re trying to put out of business,” said Alqadri, who has been in business since 2014.
Roughly two dozen students from Watsonville and Pajaro Valley high schools urged the council to follow through on all three bans. Most kids said it was too easy to get a hold of tobacco products, and that there was a lack of education of the dangers of vaping both tobacco and marijuana.
Students said vaping on campus — in classrooms and bathrooms — has become an epidemic.
“I hope you guys can really see how much the numbers have grown in the last few months, weeks and days,” one student from Watsonville High said.
Retailers will only be allowed to sell products with the traditional tobacco taste and smell. That restriction, according to city staff, is an attempt to slow an industry marketing itself toward young people with flavors such as bubble gum, cotton candy, blue raspberry slush and fruity pebbles.
Those retailers will continue to pay the annual $255 tobacco license fee, which will fund enforcement and education conducted by the Watsonville Police Department.
“The council has an obligation to create policy to protect our youth in the highest level possible,” said Councilwoman Rebecca Garcia. “This ordinance addresses e-cigarettes, vaping products and pharmacy. This is at the highest level.”