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California bans flavored tobacco sales in response to a surge in teen use

A man smoking a cigarette. Gov. Gavin Newsom signed legislation Friday banning the retail sale of flavored cigarettes.
Gov. Gavin Newsom signed legislation Friday to ban the retail sale of flavored cigarettes including menthol brands.
(Joe Raedle / Getty Images)

Gov. Gavin Newsom signed a bill on Friday that outlaws the retail sale of flavored tobacco products in California after condemning the tobacco industry for targeting young people.

The new law, which takes effect Jan. 1, came in response to a surge in teen use of flavored tobacco, including electronic cigarettes and other products with flavors including menthol, apple, cotton candy and gummy bears.

Newsom said during a news conference hours before signing the measure that he had long supported a ban.

“I have been very expressive in terms of my absolute condemnation of this tobacco industry that continues to find ways to target our youth,” Newsom said. “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.”

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The state Senate voted Friday to give final approval to the bill by Sen. Jerry Hill (D-San Mateo) despite a blitz of television and social media ads by the tobacco industry in recent weeks that said the legislation was “giving special treatment to the rich, and singling out communities of color” by banning menthol products.

Advocates for the bill denounced those claims as inaccurate and responded with another ad that argued flavored tobacco products have been heavily marketed to communities of color and pose disproportionate health risks to Black residents.

During Friday’s floor debate, Sen. Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco) criticized “the despicable misinformation campaign the tobacco industry inflicted on this Legislature and our constituents.”

In urging support for the bill, Hill cited a 2018 study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that found that 67% of high school students and 49% of middle school students who used tobacco products in the prior 30 days reported using a flavored tobacco product during that time.

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Hill participated in a signing ceremony with the governor and health advocates streamed on Zoom and said afterward that the approval is “a huge win for our kids and the health of our communities throughout California.”

Hill has tried unsuccessfully in past years to pass a flavored tobacco ban. He became emotional on the floor of the Senate on Friday as he pondered his departure after this year’s session due to term limits.

“What has kept me motivated and steadfast is the fact this bill is all about protecting kids and protecting public health,” Hill said, adding that he regretted having to accept exemptions for premium cigars, hookah products and some pipe tobacco.

The bill imposes a fine of $250 for each violation.

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California is the second state, following Massachusetts, to ban all tobacco flavors, including menthol. Other states including New York and New Jersey have banned flavored e-cigarette products. In addition, 78 cities and counties in California, including Los Angeles County, have also passed restrictions on flavored tobacco.

Representatives of Reynolds American Inc., which was involved in the opposition ad campaign, did not immediately respond to requests for comment and questions about whether the tobacco industry would seek to qualify a referendum for the state ballot to overturn the ban.

The Vapor Technology Assn., a trade group for the electronic cigarette industry, is “examining all response options at this time,” Executive Director Tony Abboud said.

Abboud said the new law is “bad policy” because he said product bans don’t work.

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“As California’s economy continues to face COVID-related challenges, the last thing its state leaders should be doing is driving people back to cigarettes, shuttering small businesses and slashing jobs,” Abboud said.


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