Editor’s Note: Seven propositions will be on the November ballot. The July 14 edition of the Idyllwild Town Crier had an article describing all seven propositions. Between now and the election on Nov. 8, the Town Crier will report on each proposition individually. In this edition, the third of these articles, Proposition 31, is a “referendum on the 2020 law that would prohibit the retail sale of certain flavored tobacco products.”
Proposition 31 is asking Californian voters to approve or to reject implementing Senate Bill 793, which was enacted in 2020. This law did not go into effect because a referendum on it had qualified for the ballot. “When a referendum on a new state law qualifies for the ballot, the law is on hold until voters decide whether to put it into effect,” the Legislative Analyst’s Office (LAO) explained.
A “Yes” on Prop 31 will make SB 793 effective. SB 793 bans the sale of tobacco enhanced with flavors, such as fruit, coffee and spices, including menthol. This applies to cigarettes, e-cigarettes, pods for vape pens, tank-based systems and chewing tobacco.
Its intent, based on research about how and why young people become smokers, was to reduce the incentive and ease to begin smoking with flavored products.
The Federal Food and Drug Administration (FDA) can also regulate cigarettes, smoking paraphernalia and associated tobacco products. And in September 2009, the FDA banned cigarettes with flavored tobacco except for menthol.
On April 28, the FDA proposed a ban on menthol in cigarettes. Comments on the proposal were accepted through Aug. 2. A final regulation has not been issued.
When SB 793 was being considered, opponents emphasized the ban on menthol would discriminate against black communities, whose smokers use menthol cigarettes more than other communities.
On July 28, a coalition of black legislators, doctors, public health advocates and activists came together to express their views in support of Prop 31, the American Lung Association reported.
The group endorsed a statement from Erica Costa, advocacy director for the American Lung Association in California: “We know that the tobacco industry has long targeted communities of color, and the LGBTQ+ community. Proposition 31 seeks to end the sale of flavored products, including menthol. Voting yes on this measure would save lives and protect young people from getting hooked on nicotine. We strongly encourage voters to vote ‘Yes’ on Proposition 31 this November so that these deadly products are remove from shelves for good.”
Supporters see flavored tobacco products as an enticement to youth to become lifetime smokers. They argue that 80% of kids who use tobacco began with flavored products. In California, the cities of San Francisco and San Jose have already enacted bans on flavored tobacco and the Los Angeles ban on the sale of these products goes into effect Jan. 1, 2023.
Opponents argue that there are already state and federal laws banning the sale of cigarettes to minors. If these existing laws are ineffective, then banning flavored products are not likely to be more effective. Therefore, this law discriminates against adults who would prefer flavored products. It especially discriminates against African Americans who tend to favor menthol cigarettes.
In an August guest editorial in the Orange County Register, Jon Coupal, president of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association, wrote, “Although the law bans the sale of flavored tobacco products to all customers regardless of age, lawmakers named it the ‘Stop Tobacco Access to Kids Enforcement Act.’ They claimed it was needed to stop underage tobacco use — because only kids, apparently, like flavor. To be sure, no one wants children smoking or vaping, but it’s already illegal in California to sell or give tobacco and vapor products to anyone under the age of 21. If prohibition worked, then we wouldn’t have a problem.”
Enactment of Prop 31 is likely to reduce state revenue from tobacco taxes, according to LAO. “Proposition 31 likely would reduce state tobacco tax revenues by an amount ranging from tens of millions of dollars to around $100 million annually. (Last year, state tobacco tax revenue was about $2 billion.)” These revenues support health care, early childhood and medical research programs.
The amount of the loss depends upon whether tobacco consumers switch from flavored to unflavored products (less loss) or totally stop tobacco use (greater revenue loss).
In a Sept. 12 editorial, the Los Angeles Times said, “But it’s revenue we’d be happy to lose if it reduces nicotine addiction and the costly health problems associated with tobacco use.”
The Times editorial supports Prop 31: “Proposition 31 doesn’t criminalize flavored tobacco, as opponents suggest. It prohibits stores and vending machines from selling flavored vapes, cigarillos and menthol cigarettes and levies fines on retailers who ignore the ban, but use or possession would not be prohibited.”
On Aug. 25, in a San Diego Union-Tribune guest editorial, Tom Hudson, Mike Genest and Julian Canete opined in opposition to it, “Proposition 31 is adult prohibition. Proposition 31 would enact a sweeping new ban on menthol cigarettes, flavored smokeless tobacco and other flavored non-tobacco nicotine products for adults over the age of 21. Prohibition has never worked. It didn’t work with alcohol or marijuana, and it won’t work now.”
As of Aug. 1, supporters of Prop 31 had $2.2 million in cash for the final three months before the election. Since March 2021, Michael Bloomberg had given more than $4 million supporting its enactment. The Kaiser Foundation Health Plan had given slightly more than $1 million. Since Aug. 1, the committee has received about another $500,000, half of which came from the California Teachers’ Association.
The committee supporting a “No” vote on Prop 31 had about $63,000 in cash available on Aug. 1. Total contributions through that date were $15.1 million; however, many from tobacco companies such as R.J. Reynolds and Philip Morris were in the form of loans. Since then, contributions have increased. For example, on Aug. 19 and on Sept. 15, Philip Morris USA Inc. gave $207,000.