California’s Ban On Flavored Tobacco Sales Suspended As Big Tobacco Funds Drive To Repeal Law

Big Tobacco is spending big bucks fighting back against lawmakers in the Golden State.

The Los Angeles Times reports, “a California law banning the sale of flavored tobacco products was placed on hold Friday after state officials said a referendum by the tobacco industry qualified for the November 2022 ballot.” According to the Times, “the announcement means the law approved last year by the Legislature and signed by the governor is suspended until California voters decide late next year whether to affirm or repeal the ban.”

California Coalition for Fairness, the group behind the campaign to repeal the law, is reportedly “funded largely by tobacco giants including R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co., Philip Morris USA and its affiliated U.S. Smokeless Tobacco Co.”  Collectively, they have already contributed more than $21 million to the cause.

In a statement on Friday, the Coalition said it would “focus on educating voters about why this law is unfair and goes too far.”

The law imposed penalties on retailers who sold flavored tobacco products, including flavored vape juice and menthol cigarettes, fining them $250 per violation. Some products were exempt, such as hookah, pipe tobacco, and some cigars.

In November, the coalition said it submitted more than 1 million signatures of registered voters in support of placing a referendum on the ballot asking voters whether the law should be overturned. State officials said if enough signatures were validated, the law would be suspended until the electorate could decide the issue. The law was set to take effect on January 1, but was not enforced because the signature certification process had not been completed. On Friday, the Secretary of State’s office announced the proposal had qualified for ballot placement.

“In order to qualify for the ballot, the referendum needed 623,212 valid petition signatures, which is equal to five percent of the total votes cast for governor in the November 2018 General Election,” officials said in a news release.

Former state Sen. Jerry Hill, who authored the bill before leaving office, said, “This truly is sad for California.”

“They will lose at the ballot in 2022, but in the meantime they’ll make billions in profit off of our youth and communities of color while they’re addicting and killing them,” he continued.

According to the Sacramento Bee, the bill passed the Assembly with a vote of 50-0, with 30 members abstaining. It received bipartisan support in the Senate, approved 34-0. Six senators abstained. Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom had signed the legislation into law in August. The tobacco industry tried to stop the bill, sparking criticism after launching an ad campaign that claimed its passage would unfairly discriminate against black and Latino smokers of menthol cigarettes. Lawmakers said they were concerned about sweet flavors targeting children.

“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 tobacco-funded coalition said.

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