Banning flavored tobacco

Shelves full of flavored tobacco products including disposable e-cigarettes, pipe tobacco and shisha at a smoke shop in Berkeley. Photo by Anne Wernikoff for CalMatters

By Elizabeth Aguilera

WHAT THE BILL WOULD DO

SB 793 bans the sale of all flavored tobacco products – from cotton candy to mango to menthol. The bill by San Mateo Democratic Sen. Jerry Hill aims to reduce the number of kids vaping, smoking and using tobacco products. The prohibition includes pods for vape pens, tank-based systems, menthol cigarettes and chewing tobacco. It initially included cigars and hookah tobacco but those were later exempted.  The onus lies with retailers, who will be fined if they continue to sell these products.

WHO SUPPORTS IT?

A long list of health organizations, labor groups, cities, state officials and community groups. Allies include the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network, American Heart Association, the African American Tobacco Control Leadership Council, Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids and CALPIRG.

WHO’S OPPOSED?

Tobacco companies and law enforcement groups, including the California Statewide Law Enforcement Association. Community advocates, such as Neighborhood Forward, also are opposed. They say the law would create an illegal market for the products and also unfairly targets smokers of color who prefer menthol cigarettes.

WHY IT MATTERS

Supporters say teenagers and young people are lured into tobacco use via flavored products. Banning these products, they believe, will decrease the use of tobacco among youngsters and keep them from becoming life-long tobacco users. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that as of last year, 1 in 10 middle-schoolers and a quarter of high-schoolers reported e-cigarette use within the previous month. In 2018, 49 percent of middle-schoolers and 67 percent of high-schoolers who used tobacco in the previous 30 days said they used a flavored product.

GOVERNOR’S CALL

On Aug. 28 — hours after the bill cleared the Legislature — Newsom signed it into law. He publicly signaled his move earlier in the day by saying he had been very clear about his “absolute condemnation of this tobacco industry that continues to find ways to target our youth. It will be a point of deep pride and personal privilege, as a father of four and as someone who has had many, many family members die at the hands of the tobacco industry, to sign that bill.” The law takes effect in January 2021.