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Santa Ana chooses to ban sale of flavored tobacco products

A researcher holds vape pens in a laboratory.
(Associated Press)
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The Santa Ana City Council unanimously voted Tuesday night to ban the sale of flavored tobacco products to protect young residents.

“We are in the midst of a youth tobacco use epidemic in which tobacco companies are luring kids into a lifetime of nicotine addiction with the sale and targeted marketing of candy-flavored tobacco products,” Councilwoman Nelida Mendoza said at the meeting. “For too long, tobacco companies have preyed upon our youth, targeting our communities with misleading advertisements and candy flavors.”

The council approved the first reading of the ordinance and will need to finalize the law at its next meeting.

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When the council initially discussed the ban in late December, some council members supported the effort to reduce harmful health impacts to the city’s youth but wanted to ensure that the ordinance didn’t inadvertently discriminate against communities that use flavored tobacco products as part of their cultural traditions, such as hookah.

In Los Angeles, hookah business owners rose up in protest in June as city officials considered banning flavored tobacco sales. West Hollywood banned flavored tobacco sales last February, except shisha tobacco, the product smoked in hookahs.

The council had the opportunity to exclude hookah from the prohibition on Tuesday, but it chose a full ban.

“The fact of the matter is, whether it’s a hookah, whether it’s an old pipe ... regardless of what the apparatus is, regardless of where it is, does it cause harm? Yes or no,” said Councilman Phil Bacerra. “I feel it’s our obligation on this dais to try to protect those in our community when we can. I believe that this ban would do that.”

The council chose to provide some support for local tobacco businesses by choosing to approve the ordinance as a first reading rather than an urgency ordinance, which would immediately take effect.

Now, businesses will have about 45 days before the ordinance takes effect so that they can try to legally sell off their remaining flavored tobacco products. Councilwoman Thai Viet Phan said instituting an immediate ban might have hurt businesses and potentially led to lawsuits.

“Many of these small retailers have stock, whether it’s $10,000, $20,000, $5,000, whatever it might be,” Phan said. “Banning the sale of flavored tobacco today would mean that they might not be able to sell it back to the wholesaler or to anyone else.”

Santa Ana’s ban comes as local governments, the state and federal government consider how to deal with flavored tobacco use in young adults. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration announced last year efforts to ban menthol in cigarettes and flavored cigars to reduce addiction, death and “youth experimentation.” Tobacco use is the leading cause of preventable death in the United States, with 16 million people living with a disease caused by smoking.

In 2020, California approved a law banning retail sales of flavored tobacco. But earlier this year, the law was placed on hold after a referendum backed by the tobacco industry qualified for the November 2022 ballot, when California voters will decide the fate of the law.

In 2019, Laguna Niguel was the first Orange County city to ban flavored electronic cigarette products.

Mayor Vicente Sarmiento said at Tuesday’s meeting that the advocacy that went into getting the flavored tobacco ban in Santa Ana needs to be directed into other cities as well. He said all kids need to do in order to get flavored tobacco products is just cross into nearby cities.

“So to the extent that you’re accomplishing something here, it’s very narrow, unless you get other buy-in from other cities,” Sarmiento said.

The Food and Drug Administration in 2019 raised the minimum age of sale of all tobacco products from 18 to 21. Sale of the products to minors, flavored or not, is a federal offense.

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