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West Hollywood bans sale of most flavored tobacco products

A cloud of smoke surrounds a man vaping.
West Hollywood unanimously banned the sale of most flavored tobacco products, including cigarettes, cigars, chewing tobacco, pipe tobacco and electronic smoking devices. Menthol, a primary ingredient in many cigarette products, is among the outlawed flavors.
(Nam Y. Huh / Associated Press)

The sale of flavored tobacco products will no longer be allowed in West Hollywood following a unanimous vote from the City Council that also banned the use of all tobacco coupons.

The ordinance bans the sale of any flavored tobacco products, including cigarettes, cigars, chewing tobacco, pipe tobacco and electronic smoking devices. Menthol, a primary ingredient in many cigarette products, is among the outlawed flavors. Any coupons or discounts on regular tobacco products are also prohibited. Only shisha tobacco, the product smoked in hookahs, is still permitted.

“The sooner [tobacco companies] get you addicted, the longer they’re going to have a customer and the more profit they’re going to make off of you,” Mayor Lindsey Horvath said in an interview Thursday.

“What that also means is many more chronic health impacts, and perhaps not being aware or being exposed to education or information about the impacts of early tobacco use. We’re doing what we can to have both an education campaign but also restricting access to those products, which make becoming addicted that much easier.”

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The ordinance passed despite pushback from some local shop owners who told council members their businesses would suffer without the sale of such products.

California’s ban on the sale of flavored tobacco products is suspended after a referendum by the tobacco industry qualified for the 2022 ballot.

A similar initiative was passed statewide last year, and was set to go into effect on Jan. 1. Instead, it was put on hold after advocates in the tobacco industry submitted enough signatures to trigger a referendum on the item in the 2022 election.

Tobacco companies waged an advertising campaign alleging that banning menthol cigarettes while allowing more expensive tobacco products such as shisha unfairly targeted communities of color.

“This is Big Tobacco’s latest attempt to profit at the expense of our kids’ health,” Gov. Gavin Newsom said when the referendum drive was launched last year. “California will continue to fight back and protect children from Big Tobacco.”

If California succeeds in passing a statewide ban on flavored tobacco products, it would follow Massachusetts as the only state to do so. At least 99 California districts — including Los Angeles County — have already banned the sale of flavored tobacco products, according to Breathe Southern California, a nonprofit organization that praised West Hollywood for its new ordinance.

“A tough law prohibiting the sale of flavored tobacco products in the city of West Hollywood can protect young people and other populations with high smoking rates by cutting off access to the key products that are leading many to cigarettes, and potentially a lifetime of tobacco addiction,” Marc Carrel, Breathe’s president and chief executive, said in a letter to the council.

Rima Khoury, a founding member of the National Hookah Community Assn., said hookah is a cultural tradition for many Middle Eastern communities.

“Hookah is not the problem,” Khoury said in written public comment. “Kids are not running around with hookahs which are traditionally 3 ft tall and take 15-20 minutes to set up. Hookahs are not being confiscated in schools. However because hookah only comes in flavors, it has become collateral damage in the broad flavor bans that are primarily focused on vape.”

Councilman John Erickson agreed that hookah does not provide the same threat to young people as more widespread tobacco products.

“Even if you have a nicotine-free product, you still have a whole lot of different chemicals coming out, including some that are toxic,” according to study co-author Sergey Nizkorodov, a chemistry professor at UC Irvine.

“Ultimately, hookah itself is a completely different subject than Marlboro selling some bubblegum cigarette to a 16-year-old who wants the taste and feel, and then they’re living a life of horrible health results of something they thought was fun and cool at the time,” Erickson said.

The council postponed until March discussion about another ordinance banning vaping, tobacco and cannabis smoking in common areas of multifamily homes, and any tobacco smoking in new housing units. Erickson said he hopes to have a broader conversation about making West Hollywood a smoke-free city.


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