REEDLEY – Youth leaders and health advocates are helping ignite the city of Reedley’s drive to reduce tobacco usage among its residents and increase awareness of the harmful effects of vaping and smoking nicotine products.
Representatives from the California Health Collaborative’s Unidos Por Salud project provided a workshop presentation to the Reedley Planning Commission at its meeting on Jan. 18 to give commissioners an overview of the work the collaborative does to end the use of tobacco, particularly among youth and in Hispanic/Latinx communities. This was done to connect to work the city is taking on to limit smoke shops around Reedley.
“We want to make sure that we’re able to share tobacco-related issues … to really bring the attention to community, because parents, young people, administrators, the police department, everyone that we’ve talked to, they’re just not aware of what exactly is going on … so our biggest goal is really just to bring information to everybody,” Project Director Jennifer Acidera said.
As city staff work on updating the zoning code and crafting an ordinance that includes increased rules and regulations regarding where and how smoke shops can operate within the city, Community Development Director Rodney Horton told the Reedley Planning Commission that he wanted to be able to explain why the city was making this push.
“One of the things I thought was beneficial before we bring forward the ordinance to you as a whole is that you really get to hear the presentation and really understand what these folks are doing,” Horton said. “I thought it would be also beneficial for you to understand why we did the regulations the way we did in the proposed ordinance.”
Horton said he anticipates the final ordinance will be brought before the commission by April or May.
Unidos Por Salud
The California Health Collaborative is a Fresno-based nonprofit that serves 56 of the 58 counties across the state, Acidera said.
Unidos Por Salud is just one of many projects the collaborative has taken on, and is a regional tobacco prevention program that receives funding from the California Department of Public Health’s (CDPH) California Tobacco Control Program.
Acidera said that while they focus on tobacco prevention within the Hispanic/Latinx population, they have services and resources for all youth and adults in the community. Unidos Por Salud has been working in Reedley for about eight years.
A few of the project’s goals are to work with local legislators to create policy that supports public health, to grow community advocates and to educate community members about the prevalence of tobacco use in young people. Acidera said the health collaborative also partners with other organizations and cities and has a youth coalition for high school students to address issues they see in their community.
“A lot of what we’ve been focusing on is limiting the sale of tobacco products and marketing near youth-sensitive areas … near high schools, day cares, churches, parks (and) other places where youth frequent,” Acidera said. “A lot of this is done through providing training and resources as well as information to the community.”
Youth tobacco use
Acidera, along with Unidos Por Salud Community Engagement Coordinator Abel Arevalo and youth member and Reedley High School student Erin Arroyo, spoke with the planning commission about the various impacts tobacco companies have on young people and the prevalence of tobacco use among middle and high school students.
Arroyo shared a statistic that showed that 30% of Fresno County youth have reported ever using an e-cigarette. Further, in the last two years, vaping has increased by 218% among middle schoolers and by 135% among higher schoolers, Arroyo said.
“I have experienced this first-hand by witnessing vape packaging in my own Reedley High School hallways,” Arroyo said. “I also see it on the side of roads in Reedley and Fresno — anywhere, really — and at my high school, at least once a day someone is caught with a vape.”
Arroyo also added that four out of five youth have said they first started vaping by using flavored tobacco, which is now banned for sale in the state of California.
Tobacco companies have a long history of targeting specific populations and promoting nicotine products that have been known to be unhealthy to people, and Acidera said that trend has continued and adapted through marketing for vape products.
Vape products are often marketed through bright colors, candy-sounding flavors, on social media with influencers and in advertisements that appeal to young people and use specific phrases and flavors to also target marginalized communities, Acidera said.
Acidera said that while tobacco companies say they do not target young people, studies and analysis of their marketing strategies and techniques show otherwise. A big reason they do this, Acidera said, is because studies have shown that roughly nine out of every 10 adult cigarette smokers began smoking by the age of 18.
“This is an important piece of information because we also know that if you haven’t started using cigarettes by the age of 18, you’re more likely to never pick up the habit later on in life,” Acidera said.
Arevalo said that at the health collaborative, they want to make sure they are spreading awareness of this information so that people can make healthier decisions, educate their peers and end misconceptions about vaping.
Vaping is not less harmful than smoking a cigarette, and although vape pens use liquid, Arevalo said the vapor that comes from them is more closely related to aerosols than water vapor.
Additionally, vape pens contain many chemicals aside from nicotine that are not approved by the Food and Drug Administration, and many vapes contain higher quantities of nicotine than a standard pack of cigarettes.
Limiting city smoke shops
Acidera commended the city of Reedley, including Chief of Police Joe Garza and City Manager Nicole Zieba, with the work they have done to ensure local smoke shops are in compliance with new state laws and to collaborate with the Unidos Por Salud project leaders on addressing youth tobacco usage as a whole.
Reedley City Council previously passed an urgency ordinance prohibiting the relocation or introduction of any new smoke shops within the city, which Horton said the city is working to replace with a permanent ordinance.
Cities have the ability to regulate how far from youth-sensitive areas smoke shops are located so that young people are not as exposed to them, and they can limit how many smoke shops are located in a single area.
Acidera said that another tool cities have to limit tobacco use and sale within their communities is to establish a Tobacco Retail License (TRL), which — much like an alcohol license — allows the city to oversee tobacco sales and use money gathered from licensing fees to fund tobacco law enforcement.