After months of debate, on Tuesday, the Santa Ana City Council voted in favor (7-0) of an ordinance banning the sale of flavored tobacco products, including hookah.
High school students from the city of Santa Ana who have advocated against the sale of this product due to its effects on communities of color and low-income communities, expressed their satisfaction at the end of the vote.
Hours before the vote, Cecy Rivera, 16, said Santa Ana youth face obstacles on a daily basis, from food insecurity to housing instability. That is why many resort to harmful methods as an escape from their problems and adopt habits such as electronic cigarettes.
“Tobacco companies have made it a point to target these minority populations and communities of color,” said Rivera, who attended town hall with a group of youth and adults to show his opposition.
Daniela Hernandez, another 17-year-old high school student, said she has friends and classmates who started vaping when they were 12 or 13 years old and were addicted before they turned 18.
“You can talk about all the statistics you want, but I’m here to say that the vaping epidemic is real, it’s real here in Santa Ana,” Hernandez said. “I’ve heard a lot of my peers talk about trying to get over their addiction to vaping and flavored tobacco.”
The young woman added that she has seen young people who get involved in this addiction to escape the stress, pressure and difficult situations they face, but there are many who feel ashamed to do so.
“It’s hard being a teenager nowadays. We need that help and the support of the chosen adults to protect us,” Hernández said. “If it was your son, you would go to great lengths to protect him as well.”
The young women are part of the Santa Ana Fights Flavors campaign, which is focused on ending the sale of flavored tobacco in the city.
The campaign indicates that one in four Santa Ana high school students have used e-cigarettes in the past 30 days.
The main cause of the problem was the high-tech electronic cigarette Juul, a product that comes in various flavors and looks like a USB flash drive, the students said.
There are currently more than 15,500 e-cigarette flavors and 200 cigar flavors. It is estimated, according to studies, that 81% of children who have used tobacco started with a flavored product. 83% of youth e-cigarette users report using flavored products.
Rocio Guzmán, a Santa Ana resident for more than two decades and a mother of four, said she is involved in fighting flavored tobacco use with the group America on Track.
Although none of her children, 19, 14, 11 and 7 years old, have been involved in vaping, she hopes not to face this situation since she has seen other mothers suffer from this problem.
“Our children are our future. Without them, what awaits us?” said Guzmán.
Councilwoman Nélida Mendoza, who supports the ordinance, said she understands that some businesses oppose it because they will lose profits, but she assured them that they will continue to make profits with other sales.
“[Los jóvenes] they will be safe only if flavored tobacco is completely removed from the shelves,” explained Mendoza.
In response to the ordinance, the National Hookah Community Association, which represents minority groups from the Middle East, Persia, Armenia, Turkey, India, North Africa and others who practice hookah as part of their cultural tradition, said it supports standards strict laws that prevent the access and use of tobacco products by young people.
However, he assured that hookah tobacco is not a problem for young people since data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) indicated that only 2.7% of high school youth consume it nationally.
“We ask the Santa Ana City Council to help preserve the right of the great Middle Eastern community that calls Santa Ana home to practice their cultural tradition,” said the association through its general counsel Rima Khoury.
The association added that one way to balance the interests of lawmakers in protecting youth from flavored tobacco products, while preserving the hookah’s rich cultural tradition, would be for SB 793, which bans flavored tobacco products flavored tobacco in California, stay.
SB 793 prohibits the sale of flavored tobacco products and enhancers, with exceptions for hookah tobacco, loose leaf tobacco, and premium cigars.
The measure also limits hookah tobacco sales to adults only and no minor can enter an establishment that sells it.
The referendum is on the ballot in California on November 8, 2022.