Dec. 11, 2020 update
California Attorney General Xavier Becerra has agreed to suspend the flavor ban until the November 2022 election, according to California vaping advocate Stefan Didak. (The agreement has also been reported in Halfwheel.)
The ban could also take effect next year if the state shows that an insufficient number of qualified voters signed petitions (the process of verifying the signatures will go on past the first of the year, when the law was scheduled to take effect). However, since the group that organized the petition drive collected more than a million signatures, that seems unlikely.
The California flavored vape ban scheduled to go into effect on Jan. 1, 2021, will probably be suspended for two years until voters decide whether to keep or overturn the law. Opponents of the ban, which also includes menthol cigarettes and flavored smokeless tobacco and small cigars, have collected what they believe are enough signatures to give voters the choice to reject the tobacco and vape ban in a November 2022 referendum.
The California Coalition for Fairness, a group funded by major tobacco companies, says it has collected more than a million signatures from registered voters in the state opposed to the ban. According to the Los Angeles Times, 623,312 valid signatures are required. Typically, groups like the coalition collect more signatures than required, because many are discarded by state auditors.
The ban covers products sold in physical retail stores only (it does not ban online sales). The bill originally banned all tobacco and vaping products in flavors other than tobacco, but lobbyists were successful in obtaining exemptions in the final version for hookah products, pipe tobacco and premium cigars. It was signed into law by Governor Gavin Newsom on Aug. 28.
The Coalition for Fairness was funded in large part by cigarette manufacturers Altria (Marlboro) and BAT/RJ Reynolds (Newport, Camel), which spent more than $21 million in the effort to stop the ban. According to the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, the 22-month delay of the ban will mean an additional $1.1 billion in sales for the cigarette manufacturers.
But it will also mean a reprieve for small vape businesses in the state. For many vape shops and e-liquid manufacturers, the law could have been a death sentence. Although it allowed online sales to continue, most California vape shops depend on face-to-face sales of flavored e-liquid.
Unlike some other flavor bans, the California law made no exception even for products approved through the FDA’s premarket review process. In other words, submitting a PMTA to the agency and being approved would still not allow a manufacturer to sell products in the country’s largest state.
Although consumer group CASAA issued calls to action for its California members, there was no visible opposition to the flavor ban organized by independent vape trade organizations, and no participation by industry groups in the signature-gathering effort.