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What the Ban on Flavored Nicotine Means for College Students Already Addicted

Stuff 2 Puff, an Ocean Beach smoke shop who’s worker, Gabriel Berdugo, said customers are angry about the ban. Photo courtesy of Sarah Gleason.

Correction: The author mistakenly attributed council member Marni von Wilpert to being involved in Prop 31 (which was a CA state referendum); however, she was only involved in the San Diego local act called the SAAFE act. Corrections have been made to the article since original publication.

She wakes up and it is right next to her bed. It travels in her pockets wherever she goes and sits in her lap while she mans the steering wheel of her car. It stares at her from the counter while she is cooking and it boosts up its power on the charger while she showers. At the end of the day, it gets one more use before the lights switch off and her eyes shut… until the next morning. 

This is the journey of one Point Loma Nazarene University student’s electronic cigarette. It belongs to anonymous student “A,” who requested anonymity due to fear of university disciplinary action. 

Student A was in high school when she was first introduced to flavored nicotine. 

“I remember hearing that it was better tasting and better for you than cigarettes,” said student A. “One of the big things though was that most places that would sell to minors only sold vapes to them and not cigarettes, so it was basically the only way to get nicotine if that’s where you were getting it from. I think that stuck out to me the most, also cotton candy sounded a lot better than tobacco.”

Another PLNU student, anonymous student “B,” who requested anonymity due to fear of university disciplinary action, was also a high school student when she began using flavored nicotine. She heard it was safer than cigarettes and could help alleviate stress. 

A popular flavored nicotine electronic cigarette brand, Juul Labs Inc., launched their electronic cigarette in 2015, according to an Investopedia article. 

In a speech given by the Food and Drug Administration Commissioner (FDA), Scott Gottlieb in 2018, the FDA declared the use of electronic cigarettes by youth was reaching “epidemic proportions.”

“We’re committed to the comprehensive approach to address addiction to nicotine that we announced last year,” Gottlieb said. “But at the same time, we see clear signs that youth use of electronic cigarettes has reached an epidemic proportion, and we must adjust certain aspects of our comprehensive strategy to stem this clear and present danger.” 

Since 2018, several school districts have sued Juul Labs Inc. for causing harm to students and/or targeting marketing and advertising to minors. The Seattle Public Schools sued in 2019, the San Diego Unified School District sued in 2020, and the Portland School District sued in 2022. Many of these lawsuits claimed an increase in the use of electronic cigarettes within the years 2017, 2018 and 2019.  

Student A and Student B were high school students from 2015 to 2019.  

District five San Diego city councilmember, Marni von Wilpert, helped pass a local San Diego act called Stop Adolescent Addiction to Flavored E-cigarettes (SAAFE) which went into effect on Jan. 1, 2023. The act banned the sale of flavored tobacco in San Diego.  

The aim of Councilmember von Wilpert’s act was to partner with schools that were struggling alone, she said in an interview with The Point. 

Von Wilpert said that the issue of youth use of electronic cigarettes is bigger than businesses illegally selling to minors. Instead, she said, big tobacco was targeting youth. 

“So the reason I got involved in this is I actually spoke in front of a Girl Scout troop in my district, a bunch of 6th graders, 12-year-old girls, and I asked them ‘You could be a city council member and make a law for the city, what kind of law would you make?’” von Wilpert said. “And all of them unanimously said, ‘We would ban flavored vapes.’ And I said ‘What? You guys are 11 and 12 years old, you’re not supposed to be vaping.’ And they said ‘It’s in our bathrooms, councilmember. It’s in the schools and people are getting sick.’” 

Many current college students, like students A and B, were high school students during the rise in minors’ use of electronic cigarettes. Now, some are wrestling with how to proceed after the city of San Diego banned flavored nicotine products. 

For Student B, the ban was an encouraging push to quit after months of wanting to.

“I actually wanted to stop right before the ban, and then the ban happened and so I was like ‘Oh this is perfect because I’m not gonna be able to get a hold of it,’ even though they’re still selling flavors under the table,” Student B said. 

For student A, the ban has sparked interest in quitting, but is not enough to quit. 

Student A said she would never smoke cigarettes, but it would take more for her to quit flavored nicotine than the ban. Student A has quit nicotine several times in the past, but none of the times stuck, she said. 

The ban, however, has sparked her thinking about trying to quit again. 

“I feel like it [the ban] did put it into perspective for me,” student A said. “I got stuff when I was underage as well, and it’s just kind of like ‘Maybe I should quit,” 

Student A said that if there is any way to access flavored nicotine, even if that meant buying online or ‘under the table’ at a smoke shop, she would still use it. 

Student A was also frustrated by the ban. 

“We have more than enough research to get rid of cigarettes, and they still have them, so I guess it’s just kind of frustrating in a way, but it’s like only ’cause I am like an addict to it,” Student A said. 

An employee at an Ocean Beach smoke shop, Stuff 2 Puff, Gabriel Berdugo, said his customers are mad about the ban. 

“They are mad because they say [that the government] controls our life, you know they start to control my flavors, maybe they will control what I have in my plate or whatever. They are mad because you know it’s the privacy side. It’s their choice,” Berdugo said.

Berdugo said after the ban, the store has experienced a 30% loss in sales.

According to Von Wilpert, the ban will be enforced by the San Diego Police Department (SDPD). If a customer sees flavored nicotine products in a store, they can call the SDPD non-emergency line and report it. The number to the SDPD non-emergency line is (619)-531-2000.

Written By: Sarah Gleason