Flavored Tobacco Ban on Hold in California

In a November 2022 referendum, voters will decide the new law’s fate.

January 26, 2021

SACRAMENTO, Calif.—California’s new law banning the sale of flavored tobacco products has been put on hold after state officials said a petition calling for a referendum qualified for the November 2022 ballot.

According to the L.A. Times, that means the law approved last year is in limbo until California voters decide next year whether to approve or repeal it. Last week, the Secretary of State’s Office confirmed that it had validated at least 623,312 signatures from registered voters on petitions, the required amount to call for a vote. More than one million signatures were submitted by the California Coalition for Fairness.

The industry group said in a statement that it “will focus on educating voters about why this law is unfair and goes too far. 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 ban would impact the retail sale of flavored tobacco products, including menthol and fruit flavors and those used in electronic cigarettes. The measure exempts hookah, expensive cigars and pipe tobacco, and as NACS Daily reported in September, it would not impact online sales, even if products are shipped to customers in the state.

In approving the ban, legislators cited a 2018 study by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that found that 67% of high school students and 49% of middle school students who used tobacco products in the prior 30 days reported using a flavored tobacco product.

During the legislative debate, the tobacco industry charged that by exempting hookah, expensive cigars and flavored pipe tobacco from the ban, legislators gave “special treatment to the rich, and [singled] out communities of color” by outlawing the sale of menthol cigarettes. The coalition added that the proposed ban would also ban the sale of FDA-approved vaping products that are alternatives to smoking combustible cigarettes.

“And it will hurt small, local businesses and jobs as products are pushed from licensed, conscientious retailers to an underground market, leading to increased youth access, crime and other social or criminal justice concerns for many California residents,” the coalition said.

Read more about tobacco flavor bans in the articles “The Flavor Ban Boom” and “A Town Without Tobacco” featured in the NACS Magazine.