SACRAMENTO — California legislators have passed a bill banning the sale of flavored tobacco in retail stores, including flavored e-cigarettes that many blame for a sharp rise in vaping among youths.
The state Senate voted unanimously Friday to give final approval to SB793 by Sen. Jerry Hill, D-San Mateo, to outlaw the sale of fruit, menthol and mint-flavor cigarettes and vaping cartridges.
Hill said the vast majority of youths who use tobacco are hooked by “kid-friendly” products, with flavors such as cotton candy and bubblegum.
“Menthol cigarettes, sweet cigars, candy vapes and other flavored tobacco products serve one purpose: to mask the harshness of tobacco and get users hooked to a dangerous lifelong addiction,” Hill said in a statement.
The bill now heads to Gov. Gavin Newsom, who said at a news conference Friday that he would sign it. He said it would be a point of “deep pride and personal privilege” to do so. Newsom has supported a new vaping tax and launched efforts to curb youth vaping.
Hill’s bill does not apply to online sales of tobacco products, which often cross state lines, with sellers not headquartered in California. The measure also would not prohibit the personal possession of flavored tobacco.
Retail stores that violate the ban would have to pay $250 per violation, though it is unclear if that would mean a $250 penalty per product sold or per transaction.
The bill was opposed by tobacco-industry groups and lobbyists, including the Vapor Technology Association. They urged vape users to ask Newsom to veto the bill, arguing that e-cigarettes help smokers quit.
“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,” Tony Abboud, executive director of the Vapor Technology Association, said in a statement.
Hill carried a similar bill last year, but shelved the measure after he said amendments gutted its intent by exempting flavored hookah products or tobacco products patented before 2000.
He reintroduced the measure this year without those broad exemptions. The bill had the support of 29 co-authors, including state Sens. Scott Wiener, D-San Francisco, and Steve Glazer, D-Orinda. Other supporters included the American Lung Association and American Heart Association.
Hill’s final bill was amended to exempt the sale of flavored premium cigars and loose-leaf pipe tobacco. Premium cigars are also exempt if sold in cigar lounges and consumed only on the premises.
Federal data show that 5 million U.S. high school and middle school students vaped in 2019, a significant increase from 3.6 million in 2018, and that sweet and fruity flavors are popular among youths.
“The California Legislature today sent an unmistakable message to big tobacco that our children’s health is more important than a deadly industry’s profits,” Lindsey Freitas, advocacy director for the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, said in a statement.
Dustin Gardiner is a state Capitol reporter for The San Francisco Chronicle. He joined The Chronicle in 2019, after nearly a decade with The Arizona Republic, where he covered state and city politics. Dustin won several awards for his reporting in Arizona, including the 2019 John Kolbe Politics Reporting award, and the 2017 Story of the Year award from the Arizona Newspapers Association. Outside of work, he enjoys hiking, camping, reading fiction and playing Settlers of Catan. He’s a member of NLGJA, the association of LGBTQ journalists.
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