The Hollister City Council heard from high school students at a Feb. 19 meeting on the lack of action regarding flavored tobacco products and their availability to youth. Mayor Ignacio Velazquez appointed Councilmembers Honor Spencer and Carol Lenoir to an ad hoc committee to review the issue.
High school students Ivete Robledo and Ariana Fabian spoke about the issue. Robledo told the council that they were frustrated by the “cat-and-mouse game where things are just being dragged out.” Fabian said the blame for youth using flavored tobacco products falls not on the youth, but the stores. She spoke of a trip to Green Rush Smoke Shop in downtown Hollister.
“The vendor sold me a vape pen and gave me two free vape juices and as we were walking out he told us he didn’t want anybody to know he was selling it because he could get into so much trouble,” Fabian said.
Robledo recounted how she went into Smokers Paradise and was able to purchase water and chips.
“What’s the point of having 21-and-older retail stores if youth can purchase these items?” she said.
The issue of flavored tobacco also came before the City Council earlier this month. On Feb. 4, the council discussed restricting the sale of flavored tobacco solely to smoke shops in order to limit its availability to consumers under 21.
Diana Avila and Elaine Norisco, health assistants with the San Benito County Health Tobacco Education Program, said an ad hoc committee was also formed in April 2018 to address flavored tobacco, but nothing came of it.
“The Surgeon General and the FDA have called youth vaping an epidemic,” Norisco said. “Here in Hollister, 324 of San Benito high school students use vaping devices. We’ve reached out to the city on 47 different occasions regarding this issue and we feel we are still at square one. We’re hopeful with this new ad hoc committee we actually will get something done.”
Marni Friedman, a Hollister family medicine physician, spoke on the dangers of flavored tobacco.
“The flavored tobacco products are specifically designed to target and addict the youth that the tobacco industry is looking for to be the next generation of smokers,” Friedman said. “If you can hook a kid with bubble gum or fruity-flavored END, or Electronic Nicotine Delivery system, you have a lifetime smoker.”
Vice Mayor Marty Richman wondered if the city could impose a 90-day emergency ban while the council worked on an ordinance to regulate flavored tobacco within city limits. City Attorney David Prentice said the council could agendize the existence of an emergency.
“The council would have to make a finding that this is so out of control that it requires immediate action by the council,” Prentice said.
Richman proposed the issue be brought back at the next meeting. Mayor Velazquez agreed and asked that it be agendized, but City Manager Bill Avera cautioned the council on this approach.
“If we draft an emergency ordinance and it’s adopted, what does it look like?” Avera asked. “It’s important to have the ad hoc committee because it will establish the rules and regulations in which these products may or may not be sold.”
Avera said he understood the youth side of the issue, but recommended involving an ad hoc committee in order to gain consensus from the community.
Councilman Rolan Resendez wondered if an ad hoc committee could move the process quicker. Avera said there are ordinances that the city can use to expedite the process and by using the process, it would allow for participation from both sides of the issue.
Said Richman: “The fact that we might consider an emergency ban might get the store owners in here.”
“I can promise you, you say that, they’ll be in here,” Avera said.
Councilwoman Lenoir interjected: “The buck stops here.”
“I’m going to be honest with you,” she continued, “I also represent the commercial district downtown and I have to be looking at both sides. That’s how it works. We’ll solve this and get something done.”
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