Referendum Sought on California Flavored Tobacco Ban

The new law takes effect in January and doesn’t impact online sales.

September 03, 2020

SACRAMENTO, Calif.—A group is seeking a referendum to allow California voters to weigh in on the just-signed law banning the retail sale of flavored tobacco products, including menthol, in the state effective January 2021.

As reported by NACS Daily, the California legislature passed Senate Bill (SB) 793 on August 28, readying it for Gov. Gavin Newsom, who signed the measure last week. Under the law, the sale of flavored electronic cigarette cartridges and flavored cigarettes will subject the retailer to a $250 fine. This comes about one year after the state of New York banned the sale of flavored tobacco.

Politico reports that the California attorney general’s office on Monday received “a proposal for a referendum that would nullify the law, and the listed filers have past connections to the tobacco industry.” Qualifying for the ballot would suspend the measure until the referendum—possibly in 2022—under California law, Politico reports. Read the referendum request here.

The California Coalition for Fairness is backing the effort, according to the Los Angeles Times.

“We agree that youth should never have access to any tobacco products, but this can be achieved without imposing a total prohibition on products that millions of adults choose to use,” the coalition said in a statement to the newspaper. “This law goes too far and is unfair, particularly since lawmakers have exempted hookah, expensive cigars and flavored pipe tobacco from the prohibition.”

Online sales will not be affected by the California ban, even if products are shipped to customers in the state.

“This new law is a direct attack on law-abiding California retailers,” according to Lyle Beckwith, NACS senior vice president of government relations. “Not only does it leave a gaping loophole for mail-order products to come into the state from online merchants, it creates an illicit market for menthol products that account for approximately 30% of all tobacco sales. Congress has yet to pass an extension of the Prevent All Cigarette Trafficking Act to include vaping products, so California has opened the door for minors to receive these products through remote delivery without age verification.”

E-cigarettes and vaping devices, collectively referred to as electronic nicotine delivery systems (ENDS), have been marketed as a safer alternative to traditional cigarette smoking and a tool for smoking cessation. The new law restricts retail sale of flavored tobacco products of any kind, including ENDS and cigarettes, but excludes restriction of flavored premium cigars and hookah tobacco. Hookah pipes are water-filled pipes that carry flavored tobacco, and they’re thought to be a safer alternative to traditional cigarettes.