When San Francisco voters upheld that city’s ban on flavored vapor and tobacco products in June, supporters of the new law predicted it would spark a prohibition trend, and they were right. More than two dozen California municipalities have enacted some sort of flavored tobacco ban, and now the bandwagon is getting full and rolling downhill fast.
Six California state legislators will introduce a bill next week that would ban all retail sales of flavored e-liquid and other vaping products statewide. The bill will also prohibit sales of menthol cigarettes, flavored cigars, cigarillos, pipe tobacco, chewing tobacco, snuff, dissolvable tobacco, and “tobacco edibles.”
The law does not exempt vape shops, even though they’re already prohibited from selling to anyone under 21. If passed, it will put every vape shop in California out of business — even though FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb says that vape shop sales to minors are not a serious problem.
The bill also imposes strict rules for online sales, including a requirement for an adult signature at delivery, and the statement “CONTAINS TOBACCO PRODUCTS: SIGNATURE OF PERSON 21 YEARS OF AGE OR OLDER REQUIRED FOR DELIVERY” printed “conspicuously” on the package.
The bill will be introduced by Democratic state Sen. Jerry Hill, and is supported by four other Democratic senators, and Democratic Assembly member Kevin McCarty. Hill, a former assembly member and onetime mayor of San Mateo, represents the 13th Senate District, which includes San Francisco.
Hill says the bill is a response to Commissioner Gottlieb’s warnings of a teenage vaping “epidemic.” Gottlieb has cited preliminary data from the CDC National Youth Tobacco Survey that show a 77 percent increase this year in past-30-day use of e-cigarettes among high school students. Gottlieb used the data as a pretense for a ban of some flavored vaping products in retail outlets without age restrictions for entrance.
“We must stop the appalling epidemic of e-cigarette use by youths,” Senator Hill said Thursday. “Enticed by fruit, candy and other appealing flavors, high school and middle school students throughout the U.S. are vaping in record numbers. The surge has reversed the decline in underage use of all tobacco products.”
California is the country’s most populous state, and it counts on cigarette taxes and Master Settlement Agreement payments (determined by the number of cigarettes sold) to pay for many state programs. The state has increased cigarette taxes substantially, but never gets around to proposing a ban on the deadliest tobacco product.
Tobacco edibles — whatever they are — will be banned, but apparently the lawmakers aren’t concerned with flavored cannabis edibles, even though the CDC says more high school kids use marijuana than vape nicotine. And cannabis products aren’t just flavored like candy. They are candy.
A quick glance at the menu of one Los Angeles cannabis dispensary showed a dizzying selection of fruit- and chocolate-flavored gummies, cookies, pretzels, brownies, oatmeal bars, creamsicles, fruit chews, caramels, chocolate bars, toffee, popcorn, mints, tinctures, and soft drinks. The small shop offers 89 edible cannabis products for sale. Surely if flavored vapor products are created to target kids, actual candy products are too?
Every politician who wants an easy issue to flog is grabbing hold of vape flavors. The FDA is already working on its own flavor rules, but no one wants to wait for the feds when they can score political points now. After all, vapers are a tiny minority, and not much of a political threat.
Most people view vapers the same way they do smokers, especially in wealthy, healthy California. Throw in a ginned-up epidemic that’s really just a huge moral panic, and you have a recipe for rampant flavor bans. It’s bandwagon time, and if it isn’t stopped now it’ll roll right across the country.