Tobacco Enforcement Program Director explains the dangers of underage smoking

Martin Garcia

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The Tobacco Enforcement Program (TEP) led an assembly to the freshman class, showcasing photos of popular flavored tobacco products, including ones from JUUL, an increasingly popular e-cigarette company.

What bothers TEP Director and presenter Nora Manzanilla the most is JUUL’s and other e-cigarettes’ increase in illegal sales. To combat this, Manzanilla describes raising tax rates to discourage buying and a suspension process under the Stop Tobacco Access to Kids Enforcement (STAKE) Act, a California state law banning the sale of tobacco to those under the age of 21.

The law gives retailers four warnings for underage sales within a five year period under section 22598 of code BPC. The first and second violations result in fines of $400 to $1,000 while the third and fourth violations can range from $1,200 to $4,000 along with a 45 or 90 day suspension for selling tobacco products. However, by the fifth violation in a five year period, the store owner’s license is revoked and is given a fine of up to $6,000.

“Our goal is to decrease sales of tobacco products to anybody under 21 because we don’t want a younger person to become addicted,” Manzanilla said. “What we are seeing is a disturbing increase in the use of electronic cigarettes. They’re accessible and they’re flavored and we don’t know how much nicotine are in those products because many of those are not Food and Drug Administration regulated.”

That’s why when Principal Deb Smith contacted her for an assembly on Sept. 27, Manzanilla agreed to come, taking with her photos of the flavored products that children and teenagers have taken a liking to. As she held the photos up, she showed students what the tobacco product flavors were: a variety of chocolate, candy and fruit flavors. This and other activities, such as asking where one would commonly find these products, was an attempt to do a type of “information exchange,” as she calls it.

“Our job is not to preach to you,” Manzanilla said. “You guys already know the information: Who’s selling, what is selling, you guys are very well aware. We want it to be an exchange of information.”

Though some students are still unsure about the exact ways tobacco impacts their body, they still understand that e-cigarettes are harmful.

“It hurts your lungs, you can get addicted to it,” said freshman Xavier Gonzalo, a student who sat in on the presentation during his third period English class. “It contains nicotine, an addictive drug. I still feel the same way, that tobacco is a horrible thing.”