Editor’s note: This story is the first in a series of articles written by seniors in the journalism program at California State University, Sacramento. They are being taught by Phillip Reese, a Sacramento Bee staff reporter and an associate professor at CSUS.  This is a renewed collaboration between the journalism program and the Citizen. For more information about the CSUS journalism program, visit facebook.com/sacstatejournalism.

California Gov. Gavin Newsom is attempting to cut the youth vaping epidemic by introducing a controversial proposal.

In his 2020-21 budget, Newsom proposes adding a tax on vaping products. If approved, the new vaping tax would go into effect on Jan. 1, 2021, adding an additional $2 charge for every 40 milligrams of nicotine in a product. The new tax will be on top of an existing excise tax on e-cigarettes.

Health resource website KidsHealth.org defines “vaping” as the inhalation of a vapor that is created by an electronic cigarette. Electronic cigarettes are battery-powered smoking devices that have cartridges filled with liquid nicotine and flavoring.

Mohammed Iqbal, manager of Cigarettes Plus on Elk Grove Boulevard, said the proposal is a horrible idea from a business standpoint.

“I feel like they’re targeting a group that’s getting a sin tax for doing a habit,” he said.

Iqbal added that every time a new law is aimed towards tobacco and smoking, his foot traffic lessens but slowly returns to normalcy.

“Those who vape won’t quit,” he said. “They will find an alternative that would benefit big tobacco.”

Elk Grove School Trustee Bobbie Singh-Allen has been trying to combat the use of teen vaping for years and better inform students and parents in her district.

“In general, there’s a massive increase in teen vaping,” she said. “I have a lot of concerns, not only as a parent but as a school board member that students and parents don’t have enough information about the dangers associated with it.”

Singh-Allen cited information from her son and other students who described teen vaping in Elk Grove schools in 2020 as “quite regular.”

“It just sort of came about very quickly,” the trustee said. “The adults - and when I say the adults, I mean administration, school boards - haven’t caught up with how fast that teen vaping has risen to provide enough information. We have information available upon request. But you know, more often than not, people aren’t going to ask for this information. It needs to be provided there.

“Just like we’ve always had information and a lot of education with the dangers of drinking and driving and smoking, it needs to be elevated to that same level because it’s quite rampant. It’s everywhere, it’s increasing and it’s alarming.”

In 2016, former California Gov. Jerry Brown signed Senate Bill 7 into law, raising the age to purchase tobacco from 18 to 21. This change was made to help limit the use of tobacco among teens.

From March 31, 2019, through Feb. 15, 2020, there were a total of 2,807 hospital visits due to lung injuries from vaping in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

A story from NBC in 2018 found that kids report vaping use as early as 12 years old.

Part of the reason for early use in teens is the different forms of technology that have been created by the tobacco industry, health officials say.

“Vape products come in different shapes and sizes such as USB flash drives, cell phones, credit card holders and highlighters and continue to evolve in technology,” a California Department of Public Health (CDPH) spokesperson said in an emailed statement. “The latest generations of vape devices make it easy to conceal at home or at school.

“The smell and sight of the aerosol may be less noticeable than the smell and sight of cigarette smoke. Additionally, there are more than 15,500 flavors of e-liquids available.”

Vaping can cause not only long-term health effects but also affect performance in school, the CDPH said.

“Vaping has been associated with multiple adverse health effects such as nicotine addiction, lung illnesses and cardiovascular issues,” the CDPH stated. “Nicotine addiction and withdrawal can cause problems with reasoning, attention-span and mood and can harm brain development in young people. Studies have also shown that vape users are more likely to start smoking combustible cigarettes.”

In 2016, when the law prohibiting the sales of tobacco products to anyone under the age of 21 went into effect, it forced patrons to find other ways to get their tobacco and vaping products.

Dale Vincent, a 20-year-old Sacramento resident, said it was easy for him to find alternative ways to get his products.

“I buy it from the Philippines once a year and get it sent over here,” he said.

Vincent moved to California in 2016 from the Philippines. He orders his vaping products online and they are shipped to his home in California.

“The cost is way cheaper there (in the Philippines),” Vincent said. “I can get triple the amount there for one juice here.”

According to Truth Initiative, teens from ages 15 to 17 are 16 times more likely to be JUUL users compared to adults from ages 25 to 34. Additionally, 43% of young people who ever used e-cigarettes tried them because of the appealing flavors.

Newsom signed an executive order into law in September to take measures against youth vaping.

“We must take immediate action to meet the urgency behind this public health crisis and youth epidemic,” said Newsom in a statement. “As a parent, I understand the anxiety caused by the deceptive marketing tactics and flavored options designed to target our kids.

“With mysterious lung illnesses and deaths on the rise, we have to educate our kids and do everything we can to tackle this crisis.”

When Newsom revealed his budget back in January, he said he would support a statewide ban on all flavored nicotine products.

Senate Bill 793 was introduced to the California Legislature on Jan. 6, 2020, where it is currently in the process of going through the California Legislature. It would prohibit tobacco retailers from selling flavored products.

If the law passes and a retailer were to violate it, they would be punished with a $250 fine for each violation.

SB 793 is currently assigned to a Senate Health Committee. However, a hearing has yet to be conducted because the Senate is on break until April 13, due to the novel coronavirus outbreak.