More and more communities are giving the boot to flavored tobacco. Will California follow? – Monterey Herald

SAN JOSE — Silicon Valley’s largest city banned flavored tobacco products from store shelves this summer, joining dozens of other California cities and counties in a public health drive to reduce nicotine addiction in youth and young adults.

Like San Jose, Sacramento County also imposed a ban this summer. Los Angeles, California’s largest city, and San Diego will implement bans in January.

Even though communities large and small across the state have already acted, Californians will decide in November to enact one of the nation’s most comprehensive bans on flavored tobacco – making it illegal for brick-and-mortar retailers to sell flavored cigarettes, e-cigarettes or vapes, including those flavored with menthol. Sales of non-FDA-approved nicotine-containing gum or chewing gum would also be prohibited.

At issue is a 2020 state law that would have banned the sale of these products, but which never came into effect. Days after it was passed, Big Tobacco launched a referendum campaign to overturn the law.

A “yes” vote in the referendum, known as Proposition 31, would uphold the law, banning the sale of flavored tobacco. A “no” would overturn the law.

If the measure passes, more restrictive local ordinances would remain in place while state law trumps weaker prohibitions. If the referendum fails, all local bans would remain in place.

San Jose began banning the sale of flavored tobacco products on July 1. Town resident Joseph Smith, who worked at a local tobacco shop on a recent Tuesday, said he started smoking at age 12 when his friend gave him a menthol cigarette. Now 30, Smith said he quit smoking two years ago by smoking Puff Bars – slim disposable vapes whose sale is now illegal under the city’s ban. He also said he no longer vapes.

Smith said he doesn’t support Big Tobacco’s marketing tactics, but neither does he support denying people the freedom to buy their favorite product at the local store.

“They kill people; they take advantage of people’s lives,” Smith said of the tobacco industry. “But overall I still feel like people have the right to do whatever they want.”

Proponents of local ordinances and statewide bans say the measures are primarily aimed at protecting young people from addiction, as Smith did.

“We can stop Big Tobacco from using flavors to get kids addicted to nicotine and profit from addiction, disease and death,” said former state senator Jerry Hill, author of the law. of 2020, to lawmakers during a recent legislative hearing on the ballot measure. . “If we can save even a few lives by ending the sale of candy flavored tobacco, it will be worth it.”

A 2021 survey by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that about 75% of middle schoolers and 80% of high schoolers who use tobacco use a flavored product, often in “kid-friendly flavors, such as berry, cherry , apple, cotton candy and chewing gum”, which mask the harshness of tobacco and act as a gateway for underage smoking.

In 2020, an estimated 4.5 million middle and high school students used tobacco products. Before the pandemic, the number of young people surveyed on school campuses who used tobacco rose steadily, from 3.6 million in 2017 to 6.2 million in 2019, according to CDC surveys.

“It’s not good for the developing brain of young people,” said Kevin Schroth, associate professor at Rutgers University School of Public Health. Schroth previously worked on tobacco control policy in New York City, which banned the sale of flavored tobacco in 2009. “There’s no reason for them to develop an addiction to these products.”

If Californians abide by state law, they would be the fifth state to enact a flavor ban after Rhode Island, New Jersey, New York and Massachusetts, according to the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids. About 345 localities across the country ban the sale of flavored tobacco.

But some of those laws, including California’s, contain glaring loopholes, such as allowing flavors in premium cigars, hookahs, pipe tobacco and online shopping. While some cities and states have banned internet sales, others have cited legal concerns about regulating interstate commerce — leaving it up to the federal government to act. The FDA proposed rules in April banning the manufacture, distribution and sale of menthol cigarettes and flavored cigars, but the rules have yet to be finalized.

In June, the agency ordered vaping company Juul to stop selling its e-cigarettes, but a week and a half later suspended the ban, following a federal lawsuit filed by the company. The FDA said its order needed further scientific review. Meanwhile, congressional legislation to ban the sale of flavored tobacco has stalled.

The tobacco industry spent nearly $22 million to overturn the California law, compared to $5.7 million spent by proponents of the ban. NO to Proposition 31 campaign spokeswoman Beth Miller said in an email that government regulations restrict adult smokers’ right to choose and take away an alternative to cigarettes some people use to get rid of the habit. Miller said the campaign agrees that “young people should never have access to tobacco products,” which have been illegal in California for anyone under the age of 21 since 2016.

Public health officials, however, say flavored products are clearly marketed to young children — and they use them. A 2021 survey by Santa Clara County, for example, found that 93% of high school students who had used tobacco chose a flavored product. Just over half of respondents who vape said they purchased their own e-cigarettes.

“When the products are available, young people may be able to find a way to get those products,” said Don Tran, policy coordinator for the county’s tobacco-free communities program. “But when you’re actually able to physically pull the product off the shelf, you’re going to dramatically reduce that availability.”

It’s too early to tell if the flavor ban is working in San Jose.

John Tokhi helps a customer at Houdini’s Smoke Shop in downtown San Jose. Traffic in the store has slowed since the ban, Tokhi says, and customers are “really upset”. (Photo: Zinnia Finn/KHN)

In downtown Houdini’s Smoke Shop, co-owner John Tokhi said the store has lost about 80% of its sales to neighboring municipalities where selling products is still legal. Before the ban, he said, a hot summer evening drew a line of businessmen and onlookers. These crowds have been replaced by customers sporadically rushing for packs of cigarettes and smoking paraphernalia.

The back shelves of his shop that once featured flavored vapes are now nearly empty, populated only with nicotine-free vapes and a few pods.

“There are a bunch of angry customers,” Tokhi said. “They are really upset. They don’t want to go any further. It’s slowed down a lot. »

Studies show that flavored tobacco laws have reduced consumption among teens. In New York, for example, public health officials analyzed the decline in flavored tobacco sales and found that teens were 37% less likely to try flavored tobacco four years after the local ban was passed. .

Dr. Achala Talati, director of tobacco policy and programs for the New York City Office of Chronic Disease Prevention, said young people are “opportunistically using tobacco” by sharing products with friends or while smoking. when readily available. Thus, decreasing the availability of flavored products reduces young people’s exposure to nicotine, she said.

“Reduced access to products locally leads to less use,” Talati said.

KHN (Kaiser Health News) is a national newsroom that produces in-depth journalism on health issues. Along with policy analysis and polls, KHN is one of the three main operating programs of the KFF (Kaiser Family Foundation). KFF is an endowed non-profit organization providing information on health issues to the nation.

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