Districts breathe in new funds to fight teen smoking

Exeter Unified, Office of Education get more than a quarter of a million dollars each to curb illegal smoking and vaping among minors

By Reggie Ellis @Reggie_SGN

TULARE COUNTY – In the wake of Tulare County’s first vaping death, two Tulare County school districts received more than a quarter of a million dollars to prevent the illegal sale of tobacco products to minors.

Exeter Unified School District was awarded $279,934 and the Tulare County Office of Education was awarded $364,113 in state funding to tackle the illegal sale of cigarettes, tobacco and vaping products to minors as part of the California Department of Justice’s Tobacco Grant Program. Grants totaling $30.5 million were awarded to 76 local entities throughout the state to support the enforcement of state and local laws related to the illegal sales and marketing of tobacco products to minors.

California Attorney General Xavier Becerra announced the grant recipients during an Oct. 1 press conference.

“Tobacco is a serious threat to public health, especially to California’s youth,” Attorney General Becerra said in a released statement. “These grants will support local communities in enforcing the law and educating kids about the harms of tobacco products. My office is dedicated to ensuring the state has the resources necessary to curb the dangers of tobacco and protect the public’s well-being. Preventing or reducing illegal sales of tobacco to minors will pave the way to a healthier California—we’re committed to tackling this public health crisis head on.”

EUSD will use the funding to hire a school resource officer through the Exeter Police Department and to provide education for students and their families regarding the harmful effects of tobacco and vaping. TCOE will use its funding to collaborate with the Farmersville Police Department to hire an officer to do tobacco-related enforcement and outreach.

The Department of Justice’s Tobacco Grant Program is funded by Proposition 56 (Prop. 56), the California Healthcare, Research and Prevention Tobacco Tax Act of 2016. Beginning in April 2017, Prop. 56 raised the cigarette tax by $2 per pack, with an equivalent increase on all other tobacco products. Prop. 56 also allocates millions of dollars annually to the California Department of Justice for distribution to local law enforcement agencies for the support and hiring of peace officers for various activities. These activities include investigations and compliance checks to reduce the illegal sale of tobacco products to minors.

The Attorney General’s Office has received reports from several agencies on the progress of their grant-funded activities. This includes public education programs for their communities, decoy operations and investigations into adults purchasing tobacco for minors. Between April and June 2019, nearly 1,800 decoy operations were conducted across the state. In the same time frame, over 1,000 tobacco education events, including vaping awareness, were held for K-12 students. Just last week, the Los Angeles city attorney announced a media campaign that targets minors and highlights the negative impact of vaping. The Tobacco Grant recipients continue to undertake critical and necessary steps to reduce illegal sales of tobacco to youth.

The grant recipients will use state dollars to fund operations and projects, including hiring school resource officers, improving law enforcement operations and providing education for minors and their families. Recipients will also use funds to educate businesses on current tobacco laws and provide outreach to tobacco vendors. The recipients include cities, counties, school districts, sheriffs’ and police departments.

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