While often seen as a problem of far away, the youth e-cigarette epidemic still rages locally. It is time for the San Ramon City Council to take a proactive public health stance on vape products.
When I decided to visit the Contra Costa County Office of Education to photograph some of the vaping devices that were confiscated from local schools, I did not expect to see such a wide variety of products that were once in the hands of youth. Every size, shape, and color one could think of (and more) were present.
After seeing only a fraction of what was confiscated from CCC students as young as sixth-graders, the case for change is not a hard one to make. While the problem of youth vaping is one that many often turn and look away from, it is very real here at home.
This issue is especially important as we continue to battle the COVID-19 pandemic. Recent research by Stanford School of Medicine and UCSF note the association between vaping, smoking and COVID-19.
The researchers highlight, "COVID-19 diagnosis was five times more likely" among youth who have ever used e-cigarettes only, and "7 times more likely among ever-dual users." Additionally, young people who used e-cigarettes only in the past 30 days were 4.7 times more likely to have symptoms.
This increased risk for COVID-19 among people who vape is due to reasons like e-cigarette aerosol and cigarette smoke suppress the immune system, making it harder for the body to fight infections.
In addition to the pandemic, as students have returned back to school, public health officials worry that there may be an increased use of e-cigarettes. During the pandemic, the number of underage youth who reported vaping declined nationally. One national study, published in the American Journal of Public Health, found that the rate of 15-17 year old youth who reported vaping in the previous 30 days declined from 21% in January 2020 to 14% in June 2020.
Given that this decline may have been in part due to less access to retail stores or social sources, the worry lies that in returning to school there could also be a return to vaping due to an increased access to the sources and stores youth may have frequented prior to lockdown.
Ultimately, the ongoing pandemic and return to school highlights the need for tobacco and vape-free policies. The recent Contra Costa County Board of Supervisors decision recognized this, as the supervisors decided to maintain the ban on the sale and delivery of electronic smoking devices and cannabis e-liquids in unincorporated areas.
However, simultaneously this decision can be seen as a call to cities, like San Ramon, who have yet to enact policy changes in working towards a healthier future for youth.
As a resident and student in San Ramon, I call on city councilmembers to join the county supervisors and neighboring cities in extending the ban on sale and delivery of electronic smoking devices and cannabis e-liquids to our community. In order to protect youth from COVID-19, the city of San Ramon must take fast action.
Editor's note: Agamroop Kaur is a senior at Dougherty Valley High School. She is a public health advocate and board of director for the California Youth Advocacy Network YBOD, as well as a member of the Stanford REACH Lab YAB. Views are her own and do not represent the organizations.