California Vapers and Vendors: What the New Tobacco Laws Mean for You

What just happened, what’s coming soon, and the dangers that lie ahead


Part of California’s new vaping restrictions went into effect on June 9, and there has been widespread confusion over just what is happening — and what is coming still. There is no reason to panic, but it is now more important than ever for vapers to unite and support each other and the businesses that serve us. A good first step is to know what’s going on.

Last month, California Gov. Jerry Brown signed five tobacco-related bills into law, which set into motion a series of changes to how the state treats vapor products and vaping. Here’s a timeline of the changes, mostly based on SFATA’s analysis of the legislation. I confirmed information with Doug Hughes, owner of Boilermaker Vapor in Torrance, and Kari Hess of NorCal Vape in Redding. Doug and Kari are both long time vaping advocates, and extremely knowledgable.

June 9:  Already in effect

21+ Age Restriction
  • “Tobacco Products”  All vapor products, including zero nicotine e-liquids, are considered tobacco products. Any device that can be used to smoke or vaporize a “tobacco product” is a tobacco product
  • Age restrictions  The legal age to smoke or vape increases to 21. It is illegal for anyone to sell or give tobacco products to anyone under 21, except an active-duty military member. (These restrictions include online sales, although the more exacting requirements for online commerce detailed in the STAKE Act take effect in January.)
  • Vape shop employees  It is legal for 18–20-year-olds to work in a vape shop, but not to vape or use other tobacco products. In other words, vape shop employees cannot vape on the job
  • Public use bans  Vaping is now prohibited in all public places where smoking was already not allowed, including parks, playgrounds, schools, group homes, foster care homes, day care centers, farmers markets, and in vehicles with children present. Additionally, landlords may choose to ban vaping in multi-unit housing and apartments
  • Vape shop exemption  Vaping is also prohibited in places of business too. However, tobacco shops (and vape shops) that derive 60 percent or more of their income from sales of tobacco products are exempt. And, according to SFATA, “vaping is allowed in a vape shop even if local ordinances have prohibited it, as long as 60% of sales are from ‘tobacco’ products. The new workforce law specifically states that it supersedes local ordinances.” That is the sole good news from all of this. If your municipality has banned vaping in vape shops, those rules are now void!

July 1:  Federal law

  • Child resistant packaging  Federal law requires child resistant packaging by this date. One of the California laws (SBx2-5) mandates child resistant packaging on October 1, but the US law beats them to the punch

January 1, 2017:  Tobacco licensing and the STAKE Act

  • Tobacco licensing  Vapor businesses must have a valid tobacco license to do business. A retail license will cost $256 (it’s $100 now), and a wholesale license will cost $1,200. According to SFATA, licensing for manufacturers is still up in the air

STAKE Act  The STAKE Act primarily affects online sales, and include:

  • Age verification  Online sales require third-party age verifications. This means using software that cross checks age against a database of personal information. Otherwise, the seller must have a signed document attesting to the buyer’s age and a filed copy of a government-issued ID. If third-party verification isn’t used, the seller must call the buyer after 5:00pm to verify the order before shipping
  • Payments methods  Payment must be made by credit card or personal check. The words “tobacco product” must be included on the buyer’s credit card statement
  • Shipping address  The mailing address must match the buyer’s credit card billing address. Shipments may not be sent to post office boxes

More trouble ahead for vaping?

Danger Ahead

While there are still areas of the legislation that are uncertain — particularly how manufacturers will be affected — most questions should be answered with the information above. But don’t relax just yet! There are two ominous developments on the horizon that could have a negative impact on California smokers and vapers. (Actually three, if you count the FDA’s deeming ban — which you should.)

On November 8, California residents will vote on a ballot initiative organized by a coalition of “health groups.” It raises the tax on cigarettes by $2.00 a pack, with an “equivalent increase on other tobacco products and electronic cigarettes.” Fighting this is going to be tough, since any opponents will be branded as being part of the “Big Tobacco lobby.” Combining a tax on lifesaving vapor products with a popular increase on cigarette taxes is much easier for anti-vaping groups to promote than a tax on vapor alone would be.

Vapers should start now explaining the situation to their friends and family who don’t smoke or vape.

There is no way to stop an initiative like this in health-conscious California without a massive public education effort from vapers. Vapers should also make sure their friends are registered to vote, and aware and committed.

Less scary but maybe more insidious is a proposed law banning sales of tobacco products (remember, e-cigs and vapor products are now defined in California as tobacco products) in convenience stores, gas stations, and any retail outlet that doesn’t make 60 perecent of its income from sales of tobacco. According to an article in CSP Daily News, SB 1400 would only allow tobacco licenses to be issued to specialty stores. The bill passed the Senate, and will now move to the Assembly. If passed, it would take effect in 2019.

That may sound good to some vape vendors — after all, it will eliminate a lot of competition to vape shops. But any law that restricts access to vapor products is a danger. Smokers find vaping in different ways, and in different places. Most of Vaping360’s readers are committed vapers who see vaping as a hobby, or even as a lifestyle. But most vapers (and all smokers) aren’t interested in learning how to navigate the world of specialty vape shops and online retailers, and they shouldn’t have to. They shouldn’t be punished because California lawmakers want to restrict cigarette sales and make smokers’ lives difficult. We need to protect everyone’s ability to make a healthier choice.

Jim McDonald
I spend most of my time studying the regulatory, legislative and scientific challenges to vaping, advocating for our right to exist, and talking with others who do the same. Consider me a source for information, and feel free to agree or disagree with anything I say. I love good coffee and sweet Michigan cherries. My childhood hero was Gordie Howe.
  • I hosted a vaping even two Saturdays ago and two former employees of the shop (both 20) attended. The owner didn’t want to risk having them caught vaping on the job. It’s a bummer that these good kids lost work. There’s another young vaper I met that used be involved with gangs and drugs. He discovered cloud comps and cleaned up his act. It’s disappointing that he won’t be able to participate in comps anymore.

    • Jim McDonald