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Influence, Manipulation & Deceit

Retailers can no longer sell most flavored tobacco products

Published Nov 9, 2022
African American son placing I Voted Early Sticker on smiling black mother's face

How did California end the sale of flavored tobacco?

On November 8, 2022, California voters upheld Senate Bill (SB) 793 by voting “Yes” on Proposition (Prop) 31, which prevents retailers from selling most flavored tobacco products, including menthol cigarettes and vapes.1 Notably, the law is focused on retailers who sell flavored tobacco products and does not penalize or criminalize an individual for purchasing, using, or possessing a flavored tobacco product.

Retailers will no longer be allowed to sell the following tobacco products in California:2

  • Flavored e-cigarettes and vapes
  • Flavored e-juice, pods, and cartridges
  • Menthol cigarettes
  • Flavored little cigars and cigarillos
  • Flavored smokeless tobacco products
  • Flavored blunt wraps
  • Flavored loose-leaf roll-your-own tobacco
  • Flavored tobacco rolling papers
  • Tobacco product flavor enhancers

The new law stops Big Tobacco from preying on and profiting off of kids and other targeted communities with their flavored tobacco products.

What’s the history behind California’s new flavored tobacco law?

On August 28, 2020, Governor Newsom signed SB 793 which ended the sale of most flavored tobacco products statewide. However, Big Tobacco then pushed for a referendum on the new law, putting the law on pause for two years and requiring voters to go to the polls and uphold the law. On November 8, 2022, voters said “Yes” to Prop 31, requiring retailers to stop selling most flavored tobacco in California.

Big Tobacco has manipulated every policy designed to protect people from their predatory tactics so they can keep selling their deadly products. The new law is a response to the death and disease Big Tobacco inflicts on our communities by hooking new users with flavored tobacco.

How does California’s new flavored tobacco law address youth vaping?

California’s flavored tobacco sales ban eliminates Big Tobacco’s main method of addicting a new generation to nicotine. A staggering 96 percent of California kids who vape use flavored vapes – and once they’re addicted it becomes a lifelong struggle.3 4 Kid-friendly flavors mask the harsh taste and high nicotine content of these products.

Many of the most popular vapes use nicotine salts which deliver a highly concentrated form of nicotine that causes less irritation.5 Nicotine is as addictive as heroin6 and rewires the brain to crave it.7 Vaping is so addictive that young people start vaping more and more – resulting in serious damage to the brain and body.8 Teens who vape are also three times more likely to become daily cigarette smokers.9

But nicotine isn’t the only danger. Vapes contain toxic chemicals with health risks we are only beginning to understand. Similar to people who smoke, people who vape are at a higher risk of chronic diseases such as cancer, asthma, COPD, emphysema, and bronchitis, making it difficult to breathe.10 11

California youth should grow up without Big Tobacco poisoning their minds and bodies. For more information on the teen vaping epidemic, visit www.FlavorsHookKids.org.

Download a Parent Guide with resources to help if your teen is addicted to vaping.

How does California’s flavored tobacco law protect the Black community?

The new law protects Black Californians by correcting the mistake made in a 2009 federal law that banned all flavored cigarettes except menthol cigarettes.12 Big Tobacco aggressively lobbied to keep their deadly menthol cigarettes on the market. It’s estimated that over 237,000 Black deaths would have been prevented by 2050 if menthol cigarettes had been included in the 2009 ban.13

For decades, Big Tobacco worked hard to keep menthol cigarettes cheap and accessible to Black communities. Tobacco industry documents reveal aggressive targeting of the African American/Black community, with more tobacco ads in predominantly African American/Black neighborhoods.14

Even more alarming, studies have found cigarettes are cheaper in Black neighborhoods, particularly menthol cigarettes.15 The tobacco industry has even gone so far as to hand out free packs of cigarettes in African American/Black neighborhoods.16

The tobacco industry’s aggressive targeting worked: In California, 47.7 percent of African American/Black adults who smoke cigarettes use menthol cigarettes, compared to only 16.5 percent of white adults.17

Learn more at WeAreNotProfit.org.

Does California’s new flavored tobacco law criminalize people who use tobacco?

No, the new law does not penalize or criminalize an individual for purchasing or using flavored tobacco products.18 The law focuses on retailers, prohibiting them from selling most flavored tobacco products, including menthol cigarettes and vapes.

For years, many lawmakers have passed policies that focused on penalizing people who use tobacco, particularly kids, believing it would be a deterrent.19 That has not been the case. In fact, those laws held tragic and unintended consequences, especially for communities of color.20 They have been ineffective and dangerous. Enforcement of the new flavored tobacco law leaves private citizens out of the equation, thereby avoiding potential for over-policing and criminalization that has disproportionately affected certain communities.21 22

How does California’s new flavored tobacco law protect the health of Californians?

The new law is especially vital now during a time when optimal lung health is key. Smoking and vaping attack the lungs and weaken the immune system.23 People who smoke or vape are at increased risk of respiratory illnesses like colds and flus and developing severe symptoms of COVID-19.24 25 26 27 28 The California Department of Public Health, doctors, and health professionals recommend quitting all tobacco use because:

  • Big Tobacco kills 110 Californians each day, and for every death there are 30 more people suffering from tobacco-related diseases – whether they use tobacco or not.2930
  • Every year in California, secondhand smoke causes more than 400 lung cancer deaths and more than 3,600 cardiac deaths.31
  • Secondhand smoke causes about 31,000 episodes of asthma attacks in children in California each year.32
  • Tobacco use can cause all types of illnesses including cancer, heart disease, stroke, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), and other diseases, as well as a decrease in overall quality of life.33
  • Smoking doubles the risk of getting sicker from COVID-19.34
  • Vaping harms the lungs and worsens the body’s ability to fight respiratory infections.35

Tobacco use remains the single largest preventable cause of disease, disability, and death, yet Big Tobacco’s products have one terrible thing in common: they cause them all.30 Learn the truth about the death and disease caused by tobacco products, for which the tobacco industry is responsible.

Do safe tobacco products exist?

No. All tobacco products are harmful.

While many people who smoke cigarettes try vapes because they think it will help them quit, studies show that they do not help people quit smoking cigarettes.36 Instead, people who smoke may end up using both products, which increases their risk for developing chronic diseases.

In fact, no tobacco companies that make e-cigarettes or other heated tobacco products have applied for FDA authorization to market these products as cessation devices or nicotine replacement therapy (NRT).

There are proven, science-based strategies to kick smoking, vaping, and smokeless tobacco.37 Take the first step toward quitting – and check out the free Kick It California program today.

How is California’s new flavored tobacco law different from the FDA’s regulation of vapes and cigarettes?

FDA regulations on flavored tobacco products are a complicated patchwork of policies that have dangerous loopholes.

In 2009, the FDA banned flavored cigarettes, except menthol cigarettes, because Big Tobacco aggressively lobbied to keep them on the market. In April 2021, the FDA announced plans to ban menthol cigarettes. They also stated plans to ban all flavored cigars and cigarillos, including menthol cigars and cigarillos.38 However, the timing for when the FDA will take action is unknown and legal challenges by Big Tobacco could delay policy implementation for years. E-cigarettes were also not included and many menthol-flavored vapes continue to be sold.

In January 2020, the FDA banned pre-filled flavored vape pods that snap into vapes, like Juul pods. Because of pressure from the tobacco industry, the FDA policy continued to allow all refillable flavored vapes and all disposable flavored vapes to be sold, creating a dangerous loophole that lets kids continue to get vapes in thousands of flavors, including menthol.

California’s flavored tobacco law does not apply to these tobacco products:

  • Flavored shisha/hookah tobacco sold in stores that only admit people 21 or older
  • Flavored premium cigars over $12
  • Flavored loose-leaf pipe tobacco

California’s new flavored tobacco law allows for local jurisdictions to continue to pass more restrictive laws that prohibit sales of all flavored tobacco products not included in the state law.

California’s flavored tobacco law, in contrast, is much more comprehensive than the federal law. It ends the sale of almost all flavored tobacco products, including all flavored vapes and menthol cigarettes.

Start your quitting journey today

Quitting tobacco is a long journey and can take several attempts before quitting for good.39 Kick It California has a personalized quit program designed for a person’s own circumstances and challenges as they begin or continue their journey to quit tobacco products.

For free quit help:

  • Call 800-300-8086.
  • Text “I Can Quit” to 66819 to quit vapes, or “Kick Tobacco” to 66819 to quit cigarettes.
  • Chat with a Quit Coach now to quit tobacco.
  • Visit KickItCA.org to get resources or download the mobile app.
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Hold the industry accountable

California has already protected people from other harmful products, and it's time to hold the tobacco industry to the same standards.