The sudden and steep increase in teen vaping is considered a public health crisis by the American Association of Pediatrics, with recent data showing 1 in 5 high school students are using e-cigarettes. While the long-term health effects of vaping are still unknown, federal and local health officials say it's a worrying trend that's hooking kids on nicotine at an early age.
In Santa Clara County, 13.9% of high school students surveyed last year said they've used tobacco products in the last 30 days — the vast majority using e-cigarettes — and close to one-third of students have smoked at some point.
Many school districts are responding by appealing to local city governments to curb the trend through smoking restrictions and tighter regulations on tobacco retailers. The resolution passed by Mountain View-Los Altos trustees on a 5-0 vote at the Nov. 18 meeting explicitly calls for cities to prohibit the sale of flavored tobacco products and reduce the concentration and density of tobacco stores near schools and other "youth sensitive" areas.
Board president Phil Faillace told the Voice in an email that he believes the community overwhelmingly supports the resolution, and that a presentation on youth vaping at Los Altos High School last week drew a large audience.
"Students, parents, educators, support staff, and board members all seem acutely aware of the health danger from vaping," Faillace said.
The Santa Clara County Board of Education passed a nearly identical resolution in September.
A recent report by the Santa Clara County Public Health Department shows that many cities have relatively lax restrictions on tobacco retailers and smoking, which could be partly to blame for the proliferation of teen e-cigarette use. Mountain View has no smoking restrictions in place for parks, public trails, multi-unit housing or "service areas" — shorthand for places that include bus stops, ATMs and ticket lines.
The city has not adopted ordinances restricting the sale of tobacco products near schools and in pharmacies, and does not prohibit the sale of flavored tobacco products that may be more appealing to teens.
Recent studies suggest that strict enforcement of existing tobacco retailers would also help. An analysis published in the journal Pediatrics in February found a reduction in tobacco use among youth and young adults in areas with robust compliance checks and enforcement programs to monitor illicit sales to minors. These programs are funded through retail license fees on all tobacco retailers, including gas stations and convenience stores.
Survey data of high school students in Santa Clara County shows about 27% of those who have tried an e-cigarette reported buying it from a store themselves, close to two-thirds of whom bought it from a vape shop.
The study added the caveat that strong city and county regulations on the sale of tobacco products does have limitations, and that the rise of poorly regulated online sales gives minors an easy way to illegally buy e-cigarettes and vape pens.
Adding to concerns about the recent youth vaping epidemic is a spike this year in vaping-related lung injuries that have killed dozens of people and hospitalized nearly 2,000. Data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) shows that more than half of those affected were under the age of 25.
Though the precise cause of the lung injuries is still under investigation, the CDC is recommending that the public avoid using any vaping products that were obtained from illicit sources, and avoid using any vaping products that contain THC — the psychoactive component of marijuana and a common link between those who became ill.