Referendum Could Overturn California Ban on Flavored Tobacco Sales

Proposal needs more than 600,000 signatures to qualify
Photograph: Shutterstock

SACRAMENTO, Calif. — Opponentsof a new law banning the sale of flavored tobacco in California notified the state they intend to seek a referendum to overturn the law.

The notice, signed by Aaron Agenbroad, Jaime Rojas and Beilal Mohamad-Ali Chatila, was filed Monday with the California Attorney General’s Office.

To qualify the referendum, opponents must collect the signatures of 623,212 voters, the amount equal to 5% of the votes cast for all candidates for governor in the last gubernatorial election, according to the California Secretary of State’s Office.  

The bill, signed into law Friday by California Gov. Gavin Newsom, is something opponents said would devastate small retailers, like convenience stores, when it takes effect on Jan. 1, 2021.

If the referendum is qualified within 90 days of the law’s signing, however, the tobacco ban would be placed on hold until the referendum is put to voters, likely in 2022.

The California Coalition for Fairness is the committee pursuing the referendum to get the law overturned. Beth Miller, the communications director for the group, said the coalition is “sponsored by manufacturers,” but she would not specify who.

“We agree that youth should never have access to any tobacco products, but this can be achieved without imposing a total prohibition on products that millions of adults choose to use,” a statement from the California Coalition for Fairness said. “This law goes too far and is unfair, particularly since lawmakers have exempted hookah, expensive cigars and flavored pipe tobacco from the prohibition. Moreover, a prohibition will hurt small, local businesses and jobs as products are pushed from licensed, conscientious retailers to an underground market, leading to increased youth access, crime and other social or criminal justice concerns for many California residents."

The California Fuels & Convenience Alliance (CFCA), American Petroleum and Convenience Association (APCA) and Neighborhood Market Association (NMA)—which represent more than 20,000 convenience stores statewide—had asked California legislators to table Senate Bill 793, saying it will devastate small retailers.

In places like San Francisco or Sacramento, where similar bans were already in place, c-stores saw sales instantaneously drop double digits or more, James Allison, head of public affairs for CFCA, previously told CSP.

California isn’t the only state to ban the sale of flavored tobacco products.

Massachusetts’ ban on flavored tobacco sales went into effect on June 1, and within the first week of the ban, c-store retailers noticed a drop in tobacco sales. Chicago is also considering an ordinance that would ban all flavored tobacco sales from the city.

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