Does this problem really need a government solution?
More than 100 Rocklin parents and children recently protested at a shopping center where a smoke shop concentrating on electronic cigarettes might open its doors, close to five different schools. Each weekday after classes, the center is crammed with kids from sixth-graders to seniors, hanging out at Starbucks, Subway, the pizza place, a tutoring center or the parking lot.
“E-cigs” are battery-powered devices that look like cigarettes and deliver an aerosol of nicotine and other chemicals. Though they’re promoted as a safer alternative to traditional cigarettes, state health officials have identified at least 10 chemicals in e-cigs known to cause cancer and birth defects. In California, it’s illegal for people under 18 to buy them, yet more teens are using e-cigs than smoking regular cigarettes. Studies show that e-cig use is a gateway to traditional smoking.
Many cities and counties use zoning laws or conditional use permits to regulate controversial businesses such as porn shops, medical marijuana facilities or nightclubs. Rocklin has no such restrictions for smoke shops, but growing community outcry prompted the City Council earlier this month to impose a 45-day moratorium while it decides whether to draft an ordinance banning smoke shops from opening within 1,000 feet of schools.
“We’re not trying to stop him from opening a business,” said Dana Clifford, one of several protesters with whom I spoke, and who has gathered more than 1,200 signatures calling for a ban. “We just don’t want it this close to our schools.”
Residents believe that Anthony Hirani, who owns several Sacramento-area smoke shops and convenience stores, picked this Rocklin location specifically to target kids. Court records show he has three convictions for selling alcohol or drug paraphernalia to minors at his other stores.
In local media interviews, Hirani has insisted he’d never intentionally sell to minors and blames employees for past offenses. It’s certainly an occupational hazard for such businesses. How many of these Rocklin parents used fake IDs when they were kids illegally trying to score a six-pack or some smokes?
Whatever the City Council decides, it seems to me parents have the real power here.
“If the city doesn’t pass an ordinance and he does open his doors here, his business will die,” Clifford said. “I don’t think people will come in and shop.”
Wouldn’t that be far more effective than any government edict?
I talked to dozens of students, both at the protest and on random afternoons, asking whether they’d consider smoking e-cigarettes. The answer was always an emphatic, even indignant, “no,” because smoking is “stupid,” “unhealthy” and “for losers.”
Where’d they get that idea?
Breen Elementary School teacher Shannon Moore opposes the shop’s location but says that education is the key.
“If you do a good job parenting and there’s a smoke shop in the neighborhood, you feel your children will make good choices,” she said.
With her was 9-year-old Jake, her son. “Ever plan on smoking when you get older?” I asked.
“Nope,” he said. “I’ve seen pictures of what happens to your lungs from smoking. It’s in our P.E. room.”
I understand parents’ concern about the smoke shop. When my daughter gets into trouble, my first, strongest feeling is to shield her from whatever threat she’s facing. Sometimes I’m wrong. Sometimes I have to let her learn from experience, or walk alone to school when I still want to take her hand. I keep learning that I can’t keep putting myself between her and everything life presents.
We bring our kids into this world, but we can’t live for them in it. We can only hope we’ve given them enough tools to cope. When it comes to this smoke shop, I doubt these parents will have anything to worry about.
Bruce Maiman regularly fills in as a host on KFBK radio and lives in Rocklin. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @Maimzini.