Santa Cruz County, CA

Tobacco Flavors Ban: Santa Cruz Protects Kids

How are cities stepping up to reduce youth tobacco use?

Not Just Juul

It’s hardly news that kids are vaping these days. Billboards and airwaves are awash with PSAs about the hidden dangers and costs of developing a nicotine addiction at a young age. Flavored tobacco products taste less harsh than regular tobacco products, making it easier for kids to continue smoking.

What you may not know, though, is that youth use of other flavored tobacco products, like cigars and cigarillos, is also on the uptick. Fortunately, leaders and public health advocates at the local level are stepping up to protect young people from these harmful products.

“When we were exploring solutions to the flavored tobacco issue, it was important to involve residents as well as city officials in that process.”

Santa Cruz, California, is one city that is grappling with a significant surge in teen tobacco use. Located on the foggy redwood coastline an hour south of San Francisco, Santa Cruz is a small beach city — the kind of place where city officials might cross paths in the supermarket after work and end up discussing tobacco control policies.

“We’re a very tight-knit community,” says Andrea Solano, project director of the Santa Cruz County Health Services Agency’s Tobacco Control Program. “When we were exploring solutions to the flavored tobacco issue, it was important to involve residents as well as city officials in that process.”

Solano explains that the city’s current mayor, Martine Watkins, was instrumental in raising the profile of this issue and getting the city council to act. Solano adds, “Other cities in the area are already copying our approach, so we know it will work when it takes effect in January 2020.”

Sharing Strategies

Echoing the US Surgeon General’s warning that “e-cigarette use has become an epidemic among our nation’s young people,” Santa Cruz educators have been providing health advocates with anecdotal evidence that more students are vaping and using flavored tobacco products. Data from a 2016 statewide survey of tobacco, food, and alcohol retailers confirmed an increase in flavored e-cigarette retailers in the city.

Thanks to previous tobacco prevention policy efforts, the City of Santa Cruz already had a tobacco retailer licensing (TRL) ordinance on the books. This type of licensing program can help reduce youth access to tobacco and counteract predatory tobacco industry tactics, especially when combined with other tobacco prevention policies. Santa Cruz County officials next discussed how to modify the existing ordinance to address the increasing sales of e-cigarettes and other flavored tobacco products and align with California’s statewide Tobacco 21 law.

“Youth possession laws are inequitably enforced against underserved communities, and they aren’t effective at reducing youth tobacco use.”

“Initially, we were considering only a partial flavors ban,” says Solano. “Our focus was on creating buffer zones around schools. But then we heard about poor results from other California cities with partial bans, so we realized that pursuing a full ban would be the best strategy.”

Besides instituting a ban on the sale of flavored tobacco products, the county’s tobacco control advocates also proposed rescinding an existing law that prohibited youth purchase, use, and possession of tobacco products. According to Solano, law enforcement was initially skeptical about taking that law off the books.

“Youth possession laws are inequitably enforced against underserved communities, and they aren’t effective at reducing youth tobacco use,” explains Derek Carr, attorney at ChangeLab Solutions. “Instead of holding the tobacco industry accountable, these laws shift responsibility to their victims — the young consumers that Big Tobacco has perniciously targeted with deadly and highly addictive products.”

The Domino Effect

When considering changes to the city’s TRL ordinance, tobacco control advocates at the County Health Services Agency reached out to ChangeLab Solutions for technical assistance. Specifically, they were looking for options to restrict flavored tobacco products and an evaluation of opportunities to further strengthen the existing ordinance.

"We’ll always take steps to protect the next generation from tobacco companies."

“We contact ChangeLab whenever we’re thinking about tobacco control modifications,” says Solano. “Their assistance is really helpful in getting policies passed that improve health and protect kids.”

Once Santa Cruz’s city council approved the flavors ban, the county board of supervisors quickly followed suit, approving a similar ordinance for unincorporated parts of the county. Other nearby cities like Watsonville and Capitola are also pursuing bans on flavored tobacco within their jurisdictions.

“Once one locale acts to protect the health of kids and families, it’s much easier to get similar policies passed in other places,” says Solano. “The tobacco control community is very collaborative and innovative here in California, and we’ll always take steps to protect the next generation from tobacco companies and retailers.”

Want to learn why laws prohibiting purchase, use, and possession of tobacco by youth can have unintended consequences? Read our fact sheet on PUP laws to explore alternative ways to curb tobacco use among youth.

7/9/2019