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OPINIONTobacco

California Legislators Push Menthol, Flavor Bans

Proposals target core segments within cigarettes and OTP, association says
Photograph: Shutterstock

LAKEVILLE, Minn.-- California State Sens. Jerry Hill, Steve Glazer, Anthony Portantino, Connie Leyva and Scott Wiener and Assemblyman Kevin McCarthy have introduced legislation this week that will ban the sale of all tobacco products that have a “characterizing flavor.” 

Senate Bill 38 defines a characterizing flavor as “a distinguishable taste or aroma, or both, other than the taste or aroma of tobacco, imparted by a tobacco product or any byproduct produced by the tobacco product. Characterizing flavors include, but are not limited to, tastes or aromas relating to any fruit, chocolate, vanilla, honey, candy, cocoa, dessert, alcoholic beverage, menthol, mint, wintergreen, herb or spice. A tobacco product shall not be determined to have a characterizing flavor solely because of the use of additives or flavorings or the provision of ingredient information. Rather, it is the presence of a distinguishable taste or aroma, or both, as described in the first sentence of this definition, that constitutes a characterizing flavor.”

According to a press release issued by Hill last week, the proposal would make California the first state in the nation to ban retail stores from selling menthol cigarettes and flavored e-cigarettes, e-hookahs and e-pipes. The bill also bans retail sale of all flavored combustible and noncombustible tobacco products such as cigars, cigarillos, pipe tobacco, chewing tobacco and moist snuff. The retail sale of all tobacco products, flavored or not, is already prohibited to anyone under age 21 in California.

These legislators suggest that flavored tobacco products cause teenagers or young adults to initiate tobacco use. They claim that “study after study shows flavored tobacco products turn youth into users,” yet those legislators fail to cite even one study demonstrating that flavors cause initiation with products by minors or adults. They fail to cite specific studies because none exist. There simply is no scientific basis for drawing such a conclusion. They also fail to recognize that all electronic cigarette and vapor products—including tobacco and menthol—are flavored, so the proposal would ban all vapor products.

Banning the sale of flavored products in California will not solve the problem of youth initiation or use of tobacco products. There are, however, certain outcomes that will result should the legislation become law. State revenues available to fund important programs, including youth tobacco-education programs, will decline considerably. Unmonitored illegal and illicit tobacco sales (to adults and youth) will increase considerably.  

Moreover, thousands of licensed, law-abiding, taxpaying retail businesses throughout California will be economically devastated that could result in stores closing and employees losing their jobs. In addition, local and state governments will suffer lost excise, sales and income tax revenues. Also, by banning reduced-risk, noncombustible products, the proposal in many ways harms, rather than benefits the public health.


Thomas A. Briant is executive director of the National Association of Tobacco Outlets (NATO). He can be reached at (866) 869-8888 or [email protected].

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