Protecting Our Children
I know too many in our community are continuing to suffer from the economic, psychological and physical health issues brought on by the pandemic. Every single day my office is working to address the needs of people on unemployment, helping constituents seeking information or assistance with vaccinations, and addressing the myriad other challenges our community is facing during this crisis.
I have and will continue to update you regularly on our fight against this pandemic and its impacts but, for today, I’d like to touch on another epidemic hitting home right now – youth tobacco use.
Tobacco use among youth has risen to the level of an epidemic, largely due to Big Tobacco aggressively marketing and selling flavored tobacco to our young people. Tobacco companies say that flavored tobacco is for adults, but the reality is that these products are just as popular – if not more popular – with kids.
But did you know that it is no longer illegal for our youth to be in the possession of tobacco products? I was shocked when I learned this; and this year I’m going to do something about it with my bill AB 422.
Youth smoking rates have been on the rise for years now. In 2016, the legislature passed the “Stop Tobacco Access to Kids Enforcement Act.” Referred to as the STAKE Act, it regulates the manner in which tobacco products may be sold and distributed, and prohibits the sale and distribution of tobacco products to persons under 21 years of age. While well intentioned, the STAKE Act inadvertently deleted Penal Code Section 308, subsection (b) that prohibited possession of tobacco products by a minor.
As a result, local governments have been struggling to fight this epidemic but this measure also prevents them from passing their own local ordinances to get these dangerous products out of our kids’ hands.
Cities have lost a valuable tool in combatting vaping and smoking by minors: the ability to seize tobacco products from a minor child found with vaping materials, cigarettes or other tobacco products while in public.
E-cigarette use more than doubled from 2017 to 2019, increasing from 11.7% to 27.5%. Five million youths were current e-cigarette users in 2019 – an increase of nearly three million since 2017. Flavored tobacco products in particular are a gateway to nicotine use and addiction; 80% of young nicotine users started with a flavored tobacco product.
Nicotine addiction can severely impact mental health by increasing irritability, anxiety and focus issues; it’s also a significant factor determining the severity of a COVID-19 case in youths, dramatically increasing their risk of contracting and developing severe symptoms.
It seems like common sense. If a dangerous product is putting our children’s physical and mental health at risk during a pandemic that has already amplified both of those issues, simply because of a lapse in the law, shouldn’t we fix it?
With AB 422, we will fix the law to allow peace officers to promote healthy behavior and remove tobacco products from children who should not possess them while educating both children and parents on the grave dangers of tobacco use.
My bill does not create criminal consequences for youth who have tobacco products confiscated. My aim is not to criminalize this behavior. Rather, it allows us to safely address it. The penalty under the ordinance would be the issuance of an administrative citation requiring the minor to participate in an anti-smoking educational program.
This legislation will not force local governments to act. It simply gives local jurisdictions the tools they need to keep their young people safe.
This bill is a meaningful and tangible step to addressing a crisis that we have seen on the rise during this pandemic, a problem I’ve heard plenty about from parents, teachers, peace officers, local governments and city leaders like Burbank Vice Mayor Jess Talamantes. I’m proud to be working with Burbank and others on AB 422. It’s a crucial step at a time when the adverse effects of tobacco products have proven to be deadly in a global pandemic. I hope my colleagues in the legislature will support this effort.
What do you think of this measure? Do you or a loved one need help with a state agency such as EDD? As always, please reach out to me with any comments, questions or concerns through my District Office at (818) 558-3043 or Assemblymember.Friedman@Assembly.ca.gov.