Chula Vista City Council unanimously approved an ordinance to ban the sale of all flavored tobacco products after hearing dozens of comments from local community members, activists, and students.
The ordinance is due for a second reading before it is finalized in the Chula Vista Municipal Charter (CVMC). If it is finalized, the ordinance will go into effect Jan. 1, 2023, subsequently banning all flavored tobacco products in Chula Vista, including menthol.
With this decision, Chula Vista joins over 60 jurisdictions in California with similar bans.
Genevieve Hernandez, Senior Planner of the city’s Development Services Department said the ordinance is a continuation of a Feb. 3, 2020 council item. During that time, the Healthy Chula Vista Advisory Commission presented proposed amendments to the CVMC to prohibit the sale of flavored tobacco products and e-cigarette devices. The council tabled the item and directed city staff to collect more information.
Chula Vista Mayor Mary Casillas Salas said the council's decision was a delay tactic.
“It was just too tough politically. They have the moral courage to say we need this ban. We're going to protect our children, and that is the most important thing that we can do as a city council,” Salas said.
Hernandez presented results from a survey conducted on Sweetwater Union High School Students. Of over 2,400 respondents, about 35% said they tried an e-cigarette or vape. Of all tobacco products tried by respondents, E-cigarettes and vapes accounted for 54% of the use.
The survey found that 44 % of local youth are accessing vape products at retail stores, including convenience stores, gas stations, and vape shops within city limits. The city also found that 30% of retailers selling flavored tobacco products are within 500 feet of South Bay schools or parks.
According to the 2021 National Youth Tobacco Survey, 2 million students in middle school and high school said the most popular tobacco product they used last year was flavored e-cigarettes.
Flavored tobacco products contain added smells or flavorings other than that of tobacco. According to Hernandez, that can include but is not limited to the taste or smell of fruit, mint, menthol wintergreen, chocolate, vanilla, honey, candy, desserts, alcoholic beverages, herbs, and spices.
“There’s been almost been 15,000 different flavored tobacco products on the market from bubblegum to cotton candy, breakfast, you name it, and they are marketing this to our youth to get future customers,” Adrian Kwiatkowski with San Diego vs. Big Tobacco Coalition.
Many supporters of the ordinance were parents, local students, health organizations, and advocates who urged the city council to act in order to reduce youth smoking.
“Any high schooler knows that if you go to the bathroom at school you will find people vaping and I’m sick of it,” said Daniela Radashkevich, a local high school student.
Local business owners argued that the ban would cause their businesses to suffer financially.
“We want to continue to take care of our community, but to put the blame on the retailers and say we are the bad guys in this is very unfair,” one local business owner said.
The City of Chula Vista has adopted many policies related to prohibitions on smoking over the years to limit the exposure of secondhand smoke and access to youth. The city council approved CVMC amendments on Dec. 19, 2017, to add e-cigarettes, including devices used for vaping, to the definition of “smoking”, prohibiting smoking on city-owned property.
The city also approved an amendment on March 16, 2018, to establish a tobacco retailers license program to regulate tobacco businesses and prevent selling tobacco and tobacco paraphernalia to individuals under the age of 21.
During the meeting, Salas shared that her granddaughter “first picked up a vape at a Hilltop High School bathroom when she was 15 and now she’s thoroughly addicted to vaping and it has caused her a lot of physical problems.”
“I walked down the street in downtown Chula Vista. By the way, we have two smoke shops that are within a block of each other. My granddaughter patronized both of them. She is not 21 yet, but she readily bought in both stores.”
Councilmembers also shared personal anecdotes about their experiences with tobacco, including Councilman Steve Padilla, who said he watched his grandfather “die slowly of cancer because as a young man, he learned that smoking was a cool thing to do”
“He also said I should have never picked up that first cigarette,” Padilla said.
Councilwoman Andrea Cardenas said she would like the city to assess how small businesses would be impacted by the ordinance, and find ways to support those who are impacted.
Councilwoman Jill Galvez proposed that the city join the European Union and the Food and Drug Administration to limit sales of E-Cigarettes in the city to a maximum level of 2%, but the council did not support the idea.
“We talk about public safety as our number one priority, but public safety means kids' safety too and making them our number one priority. Making sure that we make this product as inaccessible as we can," Salas said. "They may go to Tijuana to get flavored cigarettes or other jurisdictions, but at least the city of Chula Vista won't be complicit in addicting them. ”
California voters will have a chance to decide if this flavored tobacco ban should be statewide on the November ballot as Proposition 31.