California recently passed a bill, SB 793, that would prohibit in-store sales of flavored smokable and vapable tobacco products. These include cigarillos, flavored cigars, flavored e-cigarettes, menthol cigarettes, and many other products. The bill excludes a few items from scrutiny, including premium cigars, loose-leaf tobacco used in pipes, and shisha tobacco for hookahs.
The bill would go into effect on January 1st, 2021 after being passed by California’s Senate in a 38-0 vote and the Assembly in a 58-1 vote. Gov. Gavin Newsom signed the bill into law on August 28, 2020. The ban will build off of previous legislation, including the Stop Tobacco Access to Kids Enforcement (STAKE) Act, that outlawed the sale of tobacco products to those under 21 years of age. The bill would impose a $250 fine for each violation of the new law.
Flavored Tobacco Alternatives Step Up
The ban will likely lead to increased use of non-tobacco smoking products. One such company, King Palm, has been providing a tobacco-free alternative to the cigar wrap for years. Their most popular products are flavored pre-rolled cones, similar to a cigar wrap, but crafted from the leaves of the Cordia palm tree. The all-natural, sustainably-grown leaf provides a slow-burning, cigar-like effect without the tobacco and nicotine content.
Many other rolling paper companies have been developing similar products that are poised to experience large growth should the flavored tobacco ban go into effect.
A Last-Ditch Effort
In an effort to salvage some last sales in a dying industry, a coalition backed by Big Tobacco has been attempting to halt or reverse the bill. As of November 2020, they have turned in over 1 million signatures for their referendum. If the referendum receives enough signatures (determined by the office of the Secretary of State), the decision on the flavored tobacco ban would be pushed back to November of 2022 for voters to decide on. This would give tobacco companies another two years to peddle their flavored wares, even in the face of harsh opposition from the California government and the general public.
The original idea of banning flavored tobacco stems from a growing consensus that kids and teenagers are more prone to tobacco use when flavors are added. For instance, the CDC states that among children who reported using e-cigarettes, over 82% used a flavored variety. Additionally, they report that the primary reason that children report having used an e-cigarette is the flavors. Because of the low-scent and concealable nature of the devices, e-cigarettes have become a serious issue in schools and homes across the country. In effect, Bill SB 793 is less of a “flavored tobacco ban” and more of a “vape flavor ban,” as it is aimed towards eliminating underage use of the electronic products.
Either way, if you are a producer of flavored tobacco-free smoking products, you’re in luck. The current heat is only on flavored tobacco products, leaving hemp, Cordia palm, and other alternative materials to flourish in tobacco’s absence. Maybe these smaller companies can have the good sense not to advertise to children or engage in other unscrupulous activities that Big Tobacco is commonly accused of. The flavored tobacco ban is essential to protect the future of this country, and prevent a huge health crisis.