Livermore’s police department has announced it will use state grant money to hire an additional officer to work in the city’s schools to crack down on tobacco and vaping use among students.
The action is the latest in the community to strike back at vaping, which has been linked to lung injuries and deaths around the country. Last week, the Livermore Valley Joint Unified School District joined other districts in suing the nation’s largest e-cigarette maker, alleging it deceptively targets minors in its marketing campaigns.
The money, $510,888 from the California Department of Justice Tobacco Grant Program, will also fund enforcement operations to prevent the illegal sale and marketing of tobacco products to minors, police said. Although e-cigarettes do not utilize typical tobacco as in regular cigarettes, they are a delivery system for nicotine to the body.
“We want to get hold of the reins here and get on top of it and get it under control,” said Joanna Johnson, a Livermore police public information officer. “We don’t know where the kids are getting it. We clearly want to know if they are getting it from these establishments that shouldn’t be selling to under 21.”
State law prohibits sales of tobacco and nicotine products to people under 21 years old, unless they are in the military, Johnson said.
Livermore police were among 76 California police agencies, including the Alameda County Sheriff’s Department, to apply for a share of the $30.5 million in funding. Police said a recent school district survey found “one in four Livermore High School students indicated they had used tobacco in the last 30 days, and one in five vaped four or more times.”
Although their parents might have smoked cigarettes when they were teens to look “cool,” students today are “vaping” for the same reason, Johnson said.
“It’s a really big problem on campus,” Johnson said.
Livermore police currently have an officer assigned to Livermore and Granada high schools. The grant money will fund a new officer who will take the lead on tobacco and vaping issues throughout the district’s schools, in addition to assisting the other officers with other problems, Johnson said.
“We have a very active school district here,” Johnson said. “They are very much involved in the community with what’s going on.”
Police will partner with the district to conduct an education campaign focusing on the risks associated with tobacco use and vaping. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said that, as of Dec. 17, it has received reports of 2,506 cases of people hospitalized with lung injuries from e-cigarette use from all 50 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. Fifty-four deaths have resulted in 27 states and D.C., the CDC said.
In addition, officers will use funds to conduct operations at businesses where minors working with police will try to buy tobacco and vaping products. The operations will be similar to those that target establishments that sell alcohol to minors, Johnson said. Violators will be cited; their actions will be reported to the state Alcoholic Beverage Control, which licenses them.
In a lawsuit filed Dec. 16 in U.S. District Court in San Francisco, attorneys for the Livermore school district alleged e-cigarette maker Juul Labs, Inc., targeted minors through social media, paid influencers and viral hashtag advertising to persuade teenagers to believe that “Juuling” was cool and safe. The lawsuit alleges Juul makes products students can easily conceal and charges that Juul uses a process in creating their products that increases the potency of nicotine, making them highly addictive.
Vaping products come in a variety of flavors, including candy that is popular with youth.
Juul also is being sued by the San Francisco Unified School District; the Cabrillo Unified School District, San Mateo-Foster City School District and Jefferson Union High School District in San Mateo County; the San Mateo County Office of Education and Superintendent of Schools Nancy Magee. There are numerous other lawsuits around the country.
On Jan. 1, a law enacted in July by the Livermore City Council, will require every retailer in the city to obtain a tobacco license. The ordinance, which Juul had initially challenged, also requires sellers to be 1,000-feet from schools and other places youth gather, and prohibits the sale of flavored tobacco products, e-cigarettes and e-cigarette liquids.
During the summer, proponents of the ordinance rallied in support of its passage. Granada High School Principal Matthew Hart displayed a box of vaping products confiscated at schools last year. Brett Christopher, Livermore High School’s vice principal, talked about eating lunch in the boys’ bathroom each day to keep students from vaping.
In October, The Alameda County Sheriff’s Office also was notified it would receive nearly $177,000. The agency “intends to continue providing training and education, while increasing enforcement efforts in and around tobacco retailer establishments,” the Attorney General’s Office said.