BY ALLISON LEVITSKY
Daily Post Staff Writer
Two stores in Palo Alto illegally sell nicotine products to some of the hundreds of local teens who smoke e-cigarettes, a Palo Alto High School junior told City Council last night (April 8).
Faisal Ojjeh, a first-year member of the Palo Alto Youth Council, didn’t identify the two stores that don’t check ID to verify that customers are 21 before selling the vaping products.
The report came during an hourlong study session with the Youth Council, a group of high school students who plan youth events and weigh in on city issues as teen ambassadors to the City Council.
After Faisal mentioned that there were two retailers selling to minors, City Manager Ed Shikada said that he wanted to know more about the illegal sales “offline,” or in a private conversation.
And Police Chief Bob Jonsen approached the microphone to say that the report of illegal sales was concerning. The Palo Alto police work with the state Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control to enforce laws around nicotine sales to minors through grant-based regional stings.
Jonsen said he could look into the illegal sales and potentially design the next sting around that information.
He noted that teens could be fined $250 for vaping at school, but didn’t indicate whether a student had ever received such a fine. Police officers designated as school resource officers are responsible for drug enforcement at Palo Alto’s public high schools.
Last night, Faisal presented the results of a poll the Youth Council held on vaping, which found that about two-thirds of Palo Alto students have friends who vape.
20%-30% are vaping
Reasons cited by teens who took the poll said they vape to relieve stress or because “everyone else does it and it’s cool.”
Faisal estimated that between 20% and 30% of Paly students use e-cigarettes.
A similar number of students use e-cigarettes at Gunn High School, Youth Council Vice President Claire Cheng reported. But there’s a big difference between those who have tried it once or twice and those who vape routinely, she said.
Claire estimated that 5% of Gunn students vape regularly. According to the poll results, almost two-thirds of students say they “never” vape.
Youth Council Secretary Divya Ganesan said that about 15% of Castilleja girls vape.
A couple of years ago, students were vaping publicly because teachers and administrators didn’t know what vaping was, Faisal said. But now teachers are in the know, so students have to be more discreet and vape in the bathroom.
Still, the devices are so small and don’t emit a strong smell like cigarettes do, so it’s difficult to enforce, Faisal said.
Common in school bathrooms
Faisal said that most times he stops by the bathroom at Paly, there’s at least one person vaping.
The vapor has triggered fire alarms so frequently — at one point, eight times in three weeks — that school administrators started locking the bathrooms during the school day, Faisal said.
“Students don’t really know the harm in it. It smells good and it tastes good,” Faisal said. “Vaping has a sense of ‘It’s harmless. It’s not cigarettes, so it’s better.’”
Faisal said that after learning of the health effects, one of his friends quit vaping and another cut back.
Claire Cheng, the Gunn student, said it seems that health education has little impact on many teen vapers.
It might be more effective to post flyers on bathroom stalls warning students of the $250 fine, Claire said.