California Bans Menthol Cigarettes

Starting January 1, the state is set to join Massachusetts in prohibiting sales of all flavored tobacco products.

August 31, 2020

SACRAMENTO—The California legislature Friday passed a ban on the sale of menthol cigarettes following a 34-0 vote in the state Senate, the Wall Street Journal reports. The ban also covers all other flavored tobacco products, including e-cigarettes.

Gov. Gavin Newsome has until Sept. 30 to sign or veto the bill. The ban would take effect on January 1.

As NACS Daily reported last week, the California Retailers Association and the California Fuels and Convenience Alliance were among the business groups opposing the bill. Opponents cited the impact on small businesses, as well as the bill’s singling out communities of color. California Department of Public Health data indicate that about 70% of Black smokers in California smoke menthol cigarettes, compared with 18% of white smokers, the Journal said.

In June, Massachusetts became the first state to prohibit the sale of flavored tobacco products at convenience stores, gas stations and other retailers. The products can only be purchased for on-site consumption at licensed smoking bars.

The U.S. House of Representatives in March passed a bill banning traditional flavored tobacco products—menthol cigarettes, flavored cigars and smokeless tobacco. But the Republican-controlled U.S. Senate hasn’t introduced a companion bill.

“The more of the U.S. population already under a menthol ban, the more political cover for Congress to do the same—which I think could happen in 2021 if the Senate flips,” Stefanie Miller, managing director at investment adviser FiscalNotes Markets, told the Journal.

NACS strongly opposed the U.S. House measure, saying in a letter to lawmakers: “It is unreasonable to assume that consumers will simply transition away from these flavored products to unflavored tobacco alternatives. Instead, a ban on menthol cigarettes, flavored smokeless tobacco and flavored cigars will undoubtedly lead to a black market for these products because of the broad consumer base that exists among adult users.”

Menthol cigarettes account for roughly 30% of cigarette sales; flavored cigars account for 50% of cigar sales; and flavored smokeless tobacco products account for 86% of smokeless tobacco sales in convenience stores. Based on this sales data, NACS believes a flavor ban of traditional tobacco products would lead to the creation of a black market for these products.