Treating e-cigs like tobacco

Chico’s push to prohibit vaping in public set in motion by Bidwell Junior High School students.

Moana Larsen (left) and Natalie Chivichon both graduated from Bidwell Junior High School

Moana Larsen (left) and Natalie Chivichon both graduated from Bidwell Junior High School

Once, when Natalie Chivichon’s family stopped at a gas station, her younger brother (who’s 9) saw a “candy” he wanted in the convenience store. But it wasn’t candy; it was a vaping product with a candy flavor.

“My dad explained what it was and asked him if he still wanted it,” Natalie recalled, noting her father wouldn’t have let her brother have it regardless. “He decided against it.”

Some people view electronic cigarettes as a healthier alternative to tobacco. Not Natalie. She joined KLEAN—Kids Leading Everyone Against Nicotine—at Bidwell Junior High. As the year progressed, she learned more about e-cigarettes.

What got her attention, she says, is “the fact that a lot of people believe them to be safer than regular cigarettes, which they aren’t, and how there’s a lot of dangerous chemicals and how they’re really dangerous to kids.”

Natalie’s main source of information is the California Health Collaborative, whose Smoke Free North State project includes KLEAN, and also works closely with the American Lung Association.

Natalie shared the story of her brother publicly when she and Moana Larsen, another Bidwell eighth-grader in KLEAN, spoke to the Chico City Council about e-cigarettes.

That was April 21. Six days later, citing their presentation, Councilwoman Ann Schwab submitted to the city clerk a formal request to “agendize the subject of treating e-cigarettes the same as cigarettes and other tobacco products and ask council to consider including the prohibition on the use of e-cigarettes in all public places where smoking is currently prohibited by city ordinance.”

The council did so May 5, directing the city attorney to “review and update” the ordinances. On June 10 (after the CN&R’s deadline), the Internal Affairs Committee was set to discuss the draft amendment.

After their council appearance, Natalie said, she had “no idea” what would happen. When a teacher played a TV news report about the city picking up the baton, “I was super excited that they decided to run with it, to make it happen.”

Schwab already was following the e-cig issue when Natalie and Moana talked to the City Council. That’s not surprising to Chicoans who know her penchant for healthy living, namely cycling. (She is a co-owner of Campus Bicycles and president of the Chico Velo Cycling Club’s board of directors.) But Chico’s former mayor is also a former smoker. She picked up the habit as a teenager and continued smoking for eight years. “Fortunately, I had the willpower and fortitude to quit,” she said, though asthma is a remnant—and reminder—of those earlier days.

As for vaping, Schwab’s concerned not only for the e-cig user, but also for the people nearby who inhale the vapor, as with secondhand smoke. “I’ve seen them used inside, in an airport terminal,” she said, “and been exposed to it myself.”

Schwab had pondered how to bring the issue up for council discussion, “especially when the city is grappling with some very difficult issues to do with budgetary needs,” she explained. “So when the young women made the presentation, it just seemed like a natural follow-up.”

The proposed amendment to Chico Municipal Code adjusts 16 sections of Chapter 8.28—“Smoking Regulations.” It redefines “smoke” to include vapors from electronic devices and, thus, makes vaping illegal within city facilities, commercial facilities, public transportation and 20 feet of entryways. Oroville and Paradise have adopted similar ordinances.

So far, Schwab says she’s received “a lot of communication from people who feel pretty strongly that e-cigarettes should not have any kind of restrictions; both locally and some lobbyists from out of the area.”

She stresses that she’s “not at this point asking for retail establishments selling e-cigarettes to have any additional restrictions on them or be banned, or people to have [limits on] choices of what they want to do in their personal homes or where they can use cigarettes. I’m just asking that we be protected from any type of secondhand smoke.”

DeAnne Blankenship, Smoke Free North State’s project director, is encouraged by Chico’s action. In her eyes, tobacco and vaping products are different, not equal, but pose a common danger that justifies comparable regulation.

“They are a pretty new product and a lot of research hasn’t been done on e-cigs and the aerosol they emit,” Blankenship said. “Vaping kind of implies that it’s water-based droplets of condensation; it’s actually an aerosol, and there’s some research that shows that the secondhand aerosol is not emissions-free; it has some of the same pollutants that secondhand smoke has … that are carcinogenic and cause a host of other issues.”

Compared with tobacco smoke, she continued, e-cigs’ inhalants “have different types of chemicals that lodge deeper in the lung tissue because there are these very fine particulate matters in the glycogens that were never meant to be inhaled. So it’s opening up a whole new area of disease.”

Moana, like her friend Natalie, was alarmed to learn such details.

“I do know people who do smoke,” she said of why she joined KLEAN. “It makes me sad when I see them smoke because I know they are hurting themselves … and I wanted to raise awareness in our community to help fight against that.”

Moana is concerned about bright-colored e-cig packages and sweet flavors appealing to kids.

“If I had my say, I would prefer for e-cigarettes and all cigarettes to be gone, because it has really negative effects on the community, and I think it’s really sad that people would do that to themselves,” she said.

Last week, both Natalie and Moana graduated from Bidwell Junior. They plan to continue lobbying against tobacco and vaping.