Last month, California voters upheld the state’s ban on the sale of most flavored tobacco products with over 63% of the vote in a referendum. While the tobacco industry promptly filed a lawsuit to stop the ban, the United States Supreme Court has refused to grant their request for an injunction, allowing the ban to finally go into effect on December 21, 2022.
This long awaited outcome makes California the second state in the nation (following Massachusetts) to ban the sale of most flavored tobacco products, including menthol cigarettes, flavored cigars, and flavored e-cigarettes. The ban was originally passed by the California legislature and signed into law over two years ago, in August 2020, and would have gone into effect on January 1, 2021. However, the tobacco industry sponsored a petition seeking to challenge the law and send it to ballot referendum in the November 2022 election, delaying the law’s implementation.
Under the policy, the sale of tobacco products with a ‘characterizing flavor’, defined as the presence of a distinguishable taste or aroma other than tobacco, will now be prohibited in retail stores across the state. This includes menthol cigarettes, flavored cigars, flavored e-cigarettes, and flavored smokeless tobacco. While flavored hookah tobacco, “premium” cigars, and loose leaf/pipe tobacco are exempted, the law allows local jurisdictions to enact more comprehensive flavored tobacco product sales bans, as many have done. In total, at least 139 localities across the state have bans or restrictions on the sale of flavored tobacco products in place, including 86 localities that had a comprehensive policy in place as of June 30, 2022.
This policy will save lives, and Black lives in particular, as well as protect youth from nicotine addiction. Menthol cigarettes are more addictive, easier to start, and harder to quit, and the tobacco industry has extensively targeted its predatory marketing for menthol to African American communities for decades, causing disproportionate harm to Black Americans. Menthol cigarettes alone were responsible for more than 10 million extra smokers, 3 million life years lost, and 378,000 premature deaths between 1980 and 2018. While 12% of the US population is African American, African Americans account for 41% of the premature deaths and 50% of the life-years lost during this same time period. Eliminating the sale of menthol cigarettes will also improve the health of other groups that have been targeted by the tobacco industry. Use of menthol cigarettes is disproportionately high among communities of color; lesbian, gay, and bisexual smokers; socioeconomically disadvantaged populations; and pregnant women.
Youth will also be protected since, in California, more than 85% of young adults who vape e-cigarettes or smoke cigars choose a flavored version and, across the US, over half of youth and young adults who smoke choose menthol cigarettes.