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CDA-supported bill prohibiting sale of flavored tobacco products passes key hurdle

August 13, 2020 4062

The fight against Big Tobacco and its deceptive tactics and targeting practices continues with CDA joining a large coalition of health care, youth and community organizations to support legislation that would prohibit the sale of flavored tobacco products, including electronic cigarettes, in California. 

The fight against Big Tobacco and its deceptive tactics and targeting practices continues with CDA joining a large coalition of health care, youth and community organizations to support legislation that would prohibit the sale of flavored tobacco products, including electronic cigarettes, in California. 

Introduced in January, before COVID-19 took hold and forced the state Legislature to significantly alter its calendar, SB 793 by Sen. Jerry Hill (D-San Mateo) is now moving quickly in the final weeks of the session. After a hearing lasting several hours, the bill was approved last week by the Assembly Health Committee chaired by Assemblymember Jim Wood, DDS (D-Santa Rosa).

Pandemic response and relief are top of mind in California, but legislators, CDA, dentists and health officials know that passing a bill that could prevent large numbers of people from “getting hooked on tobacco products that destroy their lungs and make them susceptible to COVID-19 and other respiratory illnesses” is as urgent now as it was in the pre-COVID era, as a recent Los Angeles Times editorial observed.

Flavors, including menthol, hook kids early

Efforts to reduce smoking continue, but there is also growing awareness and concern about menthol cigarette use.

The National Survey on Drug Use and Health found that 51.7% of recent initiates (those who had smoked a cigarette for the first time in the 12 months before the survey interview) from 2007 to 2010 smoked menthol cigarettes in the past month compared with 41.7% from 2004 to 2006.  

The Food and Drug Administration in 2013 conducted a second investigation concluding that menthol is associated with youth smoking initiation and greater addiction and poses a public health risk that exceeds the risk posed by nonmenthol cigarettes. 

Citing an alarming rise in e-cigarette use among youths, the FDA and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released a report in November 2018 showing that more than 3.6 million middle and high school students were using e-cigarettes, representing an increase of 1.5 million compared to 2017.

Teens’ e-cigarette use has continued to rise with an overwhelming majority of youths citing a preference for popular fruit and menthol or mint flavors. Those flavors mask the naturally harsh taste of tobacco, making the products easier to use and harder to quit.

‘Legislation will save lives’

Federal laws enacted over the last few years to regulate flavored tobacco products don’t go far enough, as they do not apply to menthol cigarettes and only restrict flavors in some cartridge-based e-cigarettes, leaving flavored e-liquids widely available, according to CDA and other coalition members.

Those flavors, which mimic flavors of popular sugary drinks and candy, especially appeal to youths, and Big Tobacco has a well-documented record of targeting its product marketing to low-income communities, communities of color and other communities that are already “impacted by social inequities,” as noted in a fact sheet on the bill from Sen. Hill’s office.

SB 793 would prohibit retail stores and vending machines in California from selling all flavored tobacco products, including flavored e-cigarettes, e-hookahs, e-pipes and other vaping devices.

“After decades of hard work by our public health community, tobacco use was on the decline, but the introduction of flavored products, especially e-cigarettes using candy, menthol and mint flavors, has sadly reversed that trend and created new generations of tobacco and nicotine users,” Dr. Wood said. 

Voters made their intent to reduce tobacco use clear when they passed Proposition 56, the statewide tobacco tax that CDA strongly supported, at the polls in 2016. For the coalition of public health advocates, passage of SB 793 will help to ensure continued progress in the fight for public health and against Big Tobacco. 

“This legislation will save lives and prevent our young people from taking up the deadly and addictive habit of smoking,” Wood said.

CDA will keep members informed about the bill’s progress in the newsroom. Read more about the major legislative and policy issues and priorities for CDA in 2020.

Learn more about teens’ use of tobacco products, the health risks of e-cigarette use and Big Tobacco’s marketing of flavored tobacco product to kids.