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Flavored Tobacco Ban Begins In California

Jan 05, 2023 12:00AM ● By By Evan Symon, California Globe

The statewide flavored tobacco and e-cigarette ban went into effect on Wednesday, (December 21, 2022) impacting retailers and consumers alike less than a week after a final attempt to stop it in the Supreme Court failed.

The battle over flavored tobacco in California dates back to January 2020, when then-Senator Jerry Hill introduced SB 793, to totally ban flavored cigarettes and e-cigarettes from sale in the state. The bill had much support, and easily made it through the Assembly and Senate, although a number of amendments were added, allowing certain exceptions. Governor Gavin Newsom signed the bill shortly afterwards, with the ban set to take place at the end of the year.

However, tobacco companies quickly formed a coalition and set up a ballot referendum, collecting enough signatures in time by December to delay the ban. In early 2021, enough signatures were collected to put the decision up to California voters, with the referendum going to to the November 2022 ballot. Tobacco companies fought hard to fail the referendum, now known as Proposition 31, as many felt the ban went too far, and that it would hurt many businesses as a result. Those supporting pushing for Prop 31 to pass claimed a rise in youth tobacco consumption partially attributed to flavored tobacco being on the market.

Last month, Californians overwhelmingly voted  for the ban to stay in place, 63% to 37%, or, 6.8 million for the ban and 3.9 million against. With the ban now set to begin later this month, R.J. Reynolds, as well as other tobacco companies, quickly filed an emergency application for a writ injunction with the U.S. Supreme Court, asking the court to stop the ban as a last Hail Mary attempt. In their application, the tobacco companies said that the ban will cause “irreparable harm, leading to substantial financial losses and a hit to customer goodwill and its reputation.” Meanwhile, California argued that this was a state matter, and voters had already decided on it.

Flavored tobacco ban in CA begins

Without any quotes or other notes, all nine Supreme Court justices turned down the case last week, ending the last legal avenue to stop the ban and clearing the way for the ban to begin on the 21st. On Wednesday, all flavored tobacco products, including flavored cigarettes, flavored e-cigarette juice, menthol cigarettes, flavored tobacco enhancers, and all other related flavored tobacco products were officially banned. A few exemptions, such as flavored tobacco used in hookah bars, flavored loose-leaf pipe tobacco, and flavored premium cigars costing over $12, are still allowed under the law, but will be closely regulated from now on.

While some retailers and users have been generally fine with the ban, others noted to the Globe on Thursday that it has already negatively hurt them.

“So we had to take out shelves of the products Tuesday night,” Duy Pham, a convenience store owner in Riverside, told the Globe Thursday, “A lot of customers have been lost and angry the last several days, and I’d say we have lost hundreds in sales so far. We all knew this was coming, but it’s not great. This isn’t what we wanted at all.”

Others noted that, instead of discouraging users, it was only having them change products.

“We get a lot of teenagers and people in their early twenties here,” said Paul Stevens, a manager at a national convenience store chain. “When we told them what happened, some did get angry, but 99% of them just asked for another type of cigarette brand or something pure tobacco. Others said they’ll simply stock up on the next trip out of state and maybe give some to their friends. Whatever they thought would work, it hasn’t. And it looks like a work around is forming by having people bring it in out of state, so California is losing out in taxes in the end. I don’t think they realized what they did honestly.”

Other states and cities in the U.S. are currently considering similar bans.

Reprinted by permission