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San Diego City leaders ban the sale of flavored tobacco

San Diego city leaders approved an ordinance to ban the sale of flavored tobacco products that are intentionally marketed to youth, and menthol-flavored cigarettes by January 2023.
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San Diego city leaders approved an ordinance to ban the sale of flavored tobacco products that are intentionally marketed to youth, and menthol-flavored cigarettes by January 2023. 

The ordinance, spearheaded by Councilwoman Marni von Wilpert, was approved in a 7-2 vote. The city’s approval of this ordinance comes months before a statewide referendum tackling the issue in November.

With the passage of this ordinance, city officials officially updated San Diego's codes to change the age for the sale of tobacco products from 18 to 21. Although then-Gov. Jerry Brown raised the state's age of sale to 21 in 2016, San Diego had not updated its laws since.

“Candy flavored tobacco products are intentionally marketed to kids,
and today, the San Diego City Council took bold action to prevent the sale of these products and protect our youth,'' Von Wilpert said. “I thank my colleagues for standing with me to stop Big Tobacco from addicting an entirely new generation of youth to tobacco products.''

The ordinance does not apply to the sale of shisha, premium cigars or loose-leaf tobacco and unflavored or tobacco-flavored e-cigarettes, as well as FDA-approved cessation devices, will also be exempt from the ban.

With this move, San Diego joins more than 100 cities and counties in California that have passed their own bans, including San Jose, San Francisco, Sacramento, Oakland, and Long Beach. The move also follows similar actions in local cities such as Imperial
Beach, Encinitas, and Solana Beach, along with San Diego County for unincorporated areas. 

Hundreds of speakers presented at the nearly five-hour meeting to persuade the city council. Groups in favor of the ordinance that presented their case for the ban included the American Lung Association, the American Cancer Society, and Kaiser Permanente.

Nearly 15 percent of San Diego’s tobacco retailers sold to an underage police decoy in 2019, according to findings presented by Wilpert’s office. She said that number increased to nearly 30 percent in another study. 

Councilwoman Jennifer Campbell said she had seen the impact on children who lived in homes with smokers in her 40 years of practicing medicine. 

“If it doesn't get done at a local level, it will not get done,'' she said. ``We have to help protect our people.''

Councilmembers Chris Cate and Vivian Moreno were the two no votes on the ordinance. 

For Cate, he said he doesn't believe the ban will have the same impact supporters expect, referencing studies that increase usage. 

Moreno said that she supports an alternative approach to reduce tobacco usage, but the city should have waited until after November’s statewide vote on flavored tobacco to consider the ban. 

Dozens of small business owners also opposed the ordinance, claiming flavored tobacco made up from 25 percent to nearly half of their business. Nearly all businesses claimed they were law-abiding business owners who had been commended by the San Diego Police Department for their above-board operations.

Councilman Joe LaCava said he wanted to find a remedy for businesses selling a product that was “legal today and illegal tomorrow.''

“I would ask our liaisons in Sacramento to find a way for relief for these small businesses,'' he said.

He was joined in the sentiment by Council President Sean Elo-Rivera
and Councilman Stephen Whitburn.

“This will significantly impact small business owners and their employees and their families,'' Whitburn said. “I hope to work with store owners to track the impact of this measure.''