March 20, 2019

Stanton A. Glantz, PhD

Sacramento City flavored tobacco ban moves forward despite fierce industry opposition

As I have written before, the battle for a ban on flavored tobacco products (including ecigs and menthol cigarettes and little cigars) before the Sacramento City Council is a strategic fight that is likely to affect the fate of a similar law being considered in the California State Legislature.  The legislature is just a few blocks from City Hall and the mayor of Sacramento is Darryl Steinberg, the former President Pro Tem of the State Senate, so a strong flavor ban in Sacramento City could help pave the way for state legislation.  Conversely, an ineffectual bill (as promoted by Juul and other tobacco industry interests) could have become the model for bad state legislation.

Despite the industry pulling out all the stops, the City Council’s Law and Legislation Committee voted 4-0 to reject he industry proposal and stay with the strong ordinance. 

The Sacramento Bee has a good story on what happened.  It talked to a colleague in Sacramento who was at the meeting reported that the industry put on an impressive show, vastly outnumbering the health forces in the audience and at the podium.

Big gun lobbyists from convenience store owners (NATO) gas stations (American Petroleum & Convenience Association), vapers (Vapor Technology Association) industry-funded African American orgs (NOBLE, NAN), African American pastors complaining about racial profiling, lots of immigrant convenience store owners claiming their livelihoods will be destroyed, vapers saying they owe their lives to e-cigs.

But ultimately the four committee members saw through the industry alternative, which like many earlier industry youth access bills would have prohibited sale of tobacco products that were “knowingly attractive to minors.” This provision is unenforceable since it requires getting into the head of sellers, something that is impossible to do. 

According to the Bee, the law would give retailers 90 days to come into compliance after the law passes.  That is reasonable and a key to effective implementation and enforcement. 

I am concerned, however, that, according to the Bee, “Councilman Jeff Harris suggested the ban, if approved by council, would not take effect until at least 90 days to give time for state lawmakers to pass a statewide ban first.”  It is a big mistake to tie implementation of the Sacramento City law to action by the State Legislature, which is anything but certain. 

Importantly, this “wait for the state” is a standard industry tactic that they have used for decades.  For example, the industry would fight local smokefree laws, telling local legislators to wait for the state as a reason not to act while simultaneously doing everything they could to kill state legislation.

While prospects seem good to get the state bill out of the Senate, but the Assembly Government Operations Committee looms in the Assembly; that is the committee that tobacco bills go to die.  Juul clearly understands this: they hired the formal chief of staff to Assembly GO to lobby for them.

I remain optimistic that a good state law can be passed, but doing so will require a strong effort by health forces to force Assembly GO to pay attention to the public health and not tobacco industry campaign contributors and lobbyists.  That will take a lot of work by health forces.

In any event, it is important for Sacramento City – and lots of other cities – to move forward on local legislation both to protect their citizens and to put pressure on the State (and the FDA) to act to protect the public from flavored e-cigs and other flavored tobacco products.

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