California state officials agreed to delay legislation that would ban the sale of flavored tobacco in the state. The law was originally set to begin on January 1, 2021. The delay is in response to tobacco companies’ claims of having enough signatures to send the pending legislation to a statewide vote. The state began certifying the petition signatures on December 6th. If the required 623,000 signatures are validated, the law will not be enforced and will show up on the California ballot in November for voters to decide. However, if the signatures fall short, the ban will go into effect as planned.
The validity of the petition signatures has come into question. Inyo County’s top election official, Kammi Foote, claims that the petition, which was put forth by tobacco companies, had many signatures that did not match county records. Supporters of the ban on flavored tobacco claim that this is enough to invalidate the petition and enforce the intended ban. California Coalition for Fairness, one of the main opponents of the ban, responded to these allegations by highlighting the fact that the petition has garnered more than one million signatures, more than enough to meet the requirement.
One of the main oppositions to the flavored tobacco ban is that it will hurt thousands of retailers who are already suffering from the downturn in sales due to COVID-19. While proponents of the ban believe it is necessary to protect youth from the dangers of tobacco products. Flavored tobacco, they claim, entices youth with childlike flavors such as bubblegum, strawberry, and cotton candy while masking the more strident tobacco flavor.
If enacted, the ban would be enforced through a $250 fine on tobacco sellers. The ban applies to nearly all flavored tobacco; however, it exempts loose-leaf tobacco, premium cigars, and shisha tobacco.
Jim Knok of the American Cancer Society voiced his support for the delay. Articulating that banning retailers from selling flavored tobacco on January 1st would be useless if the law is repealed at the statewide vote in November. However, he also stressed the importance of the ban on flavored tobacco stating, “Nonetheless it’s a victory for the tobacco industry. They have thrown implementation of this important health measure into chaos. They are attempting to subvert the legislature.”
Photo via ROBYN BECK/Getty