California Legislature OKs Flavored Tobacco Ban

The move follows in the footsteps of San Francisco, which became the first major city to ban flavored tobacco in 2018.

San Franciscans who used to go to Daly City for their Swisher Sweets and green apple Juul cartridges will soon have to travel out of state to get their fix. 

The State Senate on Friday approved a bill that will ban the sale of nearly all flavored tobacco products in California starting Jan. 1, 2021. Governor Gavin Newsom has said that he will sign the bill with “pride,” in memory of family members he lost to tobacco-related illness.

Like San Francisco’s flavored tobacco ban from 2018, this bill, introduced by Senator Jerry Hill of San Mateo, was framed as a way of curbing tobacco use by underage youth. Between 2017 and 2018, the U.S. saw a 78 percent increase in e-cigarette use by high school students and a 48 percent increase among middle school students, according to the State Senate’s fact sheet on the bill. Eighty percent of youth who had previously never tried tobacco before started with a flavored product. 

Tobacco retailers and manufacturers lobbied intensely against the bill, according to the Wall Street Journal. Reynolds American Inc., the maker of Newport cigarettes, the most popular menthol variety in the country, said the bill “singles out communities of color.” 

According to California public health data, approximately 70 percent of Black smokers in the state smoke menthols, compared to just 18 percent of white smokers.

Menthols and other flavored tobacco products have been disproportionately marketed and sold to Black and other minority communities for years, according to a 2015 study in the American Journal of Public Health. 

The law does not ban the possession of flavored tobacco products, but it does include fines for retailers caught selling them. It also includes carve-outs for some flavored tobacco products, including “premium cigars” that are made by hand and cost more than $12, as well as shisha products that are smoked in a hookah. 

This isn’t the first time California has been at the forefront of tobacco regulation. In 1998, California became the first state to ban indoor smoking in restaurants, bars, workplaces, and other public indoor spaces, which subsequently became commonplace around the country. 

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