Public Health
Proposition 31 Passes – Most Flavored Tobacco Products No Longer to be Sold in CA

Proposition 31 Passes – Most Flavored Tobacco Products No Longer to be Sold in CA

In early 2020, Governor Newsom signed Senate Bill 793 into law to remove the sale of flavored tobacco products in California. The law includes provisions to remove the sale of all flavored electronic cigarettes, cigarettes (including mint and menthol flavors), and more – although it exempts a few products including hookah and premium cigars.

A referendum campaign funded by the tobacco industry (R.J. Reynolds, Philip Morris and ITG Brands) was quickly enacted, and the tobacco industry spent $21 million to gather signatures, enabling Big Tobacco to generate $1.1 billion in revenue from the sale of menthol cigarettes alone during the 22 months a successful referendum would delay the implementation of SB 793. Unfortunately, the tobacco industry was successful in gathering enough signatures. It is estimated that 17,000 lives were lost, 37,000 more high school students started using cigarettes, and the state of California incurred $800 million in healthcare costs over the 22 months of delayed implementation of SB 793.

The people of California voted on Proposition 31, with a yes vote confirming that the Bill could finally go into effect. The Proposition overwhelmingly passed, and SB 793 will go into effect the fifth day after the Secretary of State certifies the election results – this date is anticipated to be December 21, 2022.

Tobacco use remains the leading cause of preventable death and disease. For decades, the tobacco industry has used flavors to market their products, particularly to vulnerable populations. They use mint and menthol flavoring to mask the harshness of tobacco, particularly in cigarettes. In 2009, a federal ruling stated that flavored cigarettes were not longer allowed to be sold in the United States, but mint and menthol flavoring were exempted. This was a travesty, particularly as the exemption most impacted Black and African American communities. Of all Black and African American Adults who smoke cigarettes, 80% smoke menthol cigarettes – a result of the industry’s decades of target marketing. The tobacco industry also uses attractive fruity and candylike flavoring in products that are especially desirable to youth, and the main reason that youth begin using tobacco products. Four out of five kids who have used tobacco started with a flavored product.

The removal of the sale of flavored tobacco products will significantly impact the health and wellbeing of communities across California. It is important to note that upon the implementation of SB 793, there is no preemption. In other words, local jurisdictions who have already enacted ordinances to remove the sale of flavored tobacco products with more comprehensive inclusion of products (such as flavored hookah and shisha, pipe tobacco, and premium cigars – all of which are exempted under SB 793) may continue to uphold their ordinances – and jurisdictions interested in adopting policy more comprehensive than SB 793 may also do so.

As we celebrate the success of Proposition 31, local agencies and projects across the state still have their work cut out for them. Extensive education and assistance will be necessary to ensure effective implementation of the new law, and to support retailers across the state of California during the transition.

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