The words seemed difficult for Lisa Lu to find, a rare occurrence for the young but polished public speaker.
Lu had recently watched via Zoom as Gov. Gavin Newsom signed Senate Bill 793, which prohibits the sale of flavored tobacco products or tobacco product flavor enhancers in California, thus ending her personal three-year campaign to secure the ban.
“I am very emotional right now,” said Lu, who recently graduated from San Marino High School and is preparing to begin her freshman year at Stanford University. “To see all of that work come full circle, I am very excited. This is historic.”
And all from a modest beginning: The bill’s roundabout journey to the governor’s desk in Sacramento was sparked by a Girl Scout project.
“I was working on my Gold Award project and my mother, who is a cardiologist and at the time was living in China, suggested I research the number of young people who smoke,” Lu explained. Just a sophomore at the time, Lu spent the next spring break in China, conducting a survey of 837 students in five high schools.
“My research showed that 12% of kids there smoked, which is six times more than students in California,” said Lu.
She started International Youth Tobacco Control, a nonprofit that quickly grew to more than 200 members in Canada, China, Pakistan, South Korea, Saudi Arabia and the United States and worked to prevent under-age tobacco use through educational activities and legislative reform. The group lobbied local lawmakers, including the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors and the California Assembly.
Eventually, Assemblyman Ed Chau picked up the cause and co-sponsored the bill, which passed last week.
Lu set her sights on flavored tobacco products, which have become more popular and have been proved to lead to an increase in smoking.
“In the United States, the percentage of cigarette smoking has been coming to an all-time low, but there was an inverse increase in electronic cigarettes,” she said, indicating that 80% of smokers in middle and high school said they started with flavored electronic cigarettes.
“This is such a huge public health threat,” Lu said. “All along, our mission has been to promote the good health of teenagers.”
Lu, her brothers Victor and Oscar, recent SMHS grad Kimia Hassibi and other tobacco control advocates met via Zoom on Friday with Newsom to discuss the potential impacts of Senate Bill 793 and witness the signing of the bill virtually.
“With many efforts, SB 793 has previously passed unanimously in the Senate and the Assembly and is now law, banning all flavored tobacco products, including menthol, in the state of California,” Lu said. She thanked Newsom for “listening to our voices.”
Other SMHS students or graduates involved in IYTC are Aristotle Zeng, Ryan Qu, Rediet Retta, Elaina Lee, Alina Champon, Brian Chu, Seojin Choi, Chloe Wong and Erica Hou. Lu’s sister, Joyney, who is starting her freshman year of high school at Culver Academy in Indiana, is also active.
“I am so happy,” Lisa Lu said. “It is really great to now that our lawmakers are listening to us.”