September 7, 2020

Stanton A. Glantz, PhD

Tobacco Companies to force a referendum on California state flavored tobacco product ban

The same day the Governor Gavin Newsom signed SB792 into law, a group of people with ties to the tobacco companies filed the paperwork to start collecting signatures to force a referendum on the law.  It is a forgone conclusion that they will get the signatures to qualify the referendum since they will spend whatever it takes to pay people to collect the signatures.


Once the signatures have been submitted, the law will be suspended until the next statewide election when the voters will decide whether or not it will take effect, which is likely November 2022.


Given that the health groups have soundly defeated two earlier San Francisco ballot measures, Reynolds’ referendum to overturn the flavor ban (Prop E in 2016, with 68% supporting the law) and Juul’s effort to rewrite all e-cig laws (Prop C in 2018, with 82% supporting current law), the industry has to know they will lose the election. 


This is especially true because the health groups know what campaign the industry will run and how to counter it.  (It will, of course, take a lot of money, unfortunately).


The tobacco companies are almost certainly running this referendum just to buy a couple more years to keep selling their flavored products in California.


Of course, the way to deal with this (in addition to defeating them at the ballot box again) is to keep passing strong local laws modeled in San Francisco (which was the model for SB 973 before a couple exceptions got added).


Meredith Berkman from Parents Against Vaping, sent around this useful summary of the situation:



  • August 28, 2020: Governor Newsom signed SB 793 into law.
    The CA Senate voted 34-0 to support the bill which had already passed the Assembly with a 58-1 vote. 
  • Aug 31, 2020: The industry filed a referendum with the CA Secretary of State to repeal the new law.
  • Sep 10, 2020: Deadline for Attorney General to issue an official ballot title and summary. At that point, the industry can start collecting signatures.
  • Nov 26, 2020: Signatures due to CA Secretary of State


How many valid signatures need to be submitted in order to qualify?
623,312 valid signatures (5% of 2018 gubernatorial election). Signatures can be collected by mail or in-person. 


What is the deadline for signature submission?
Nov 26, 2020


If they qualify, when would it appear on the ballot?
Nov 8, 2022, unless a special election is called before then -- which is unlikely.
Note: A vote to KEEP THE LAW would be a YES vote on the ballot. 


If they qualify for the Nov 2022 ballot, what happens to the law in the meantime?
If the referendum qualifies, the law to end the sale of flavored tobacco products would not take effect unless and until approved by voters in the Nov 2022 election. Therefore, candy-flavored tobacco products would remain on the market for nearly two extra years to addict young new users. Regardless of the ballot outcome, the industry will use this referendum strategy to delay implementation of this lifesaving law. Every day of delay before this law takes effect, means more money in the industry’s pockets, and more California kids getting hooked.      


Who is behind the repeal attempt?
Big Tobacco. The three proponents listed are Aaron Agenbroad, legal counsel for RAI (RJ Reynolds Tobacco); Jaime Rojas, lobbyist for the Vapor Technology Association (VTA) and National Association of Tobacco Outlets (NATO); and Beilal Mohamad-Ali Chatila, Oakland lawyer who attempted to challenge Oakland’s local flavored tobacco policy. They will eventually need to form a ballot committee. The name of that committee is not yet known.


Note: The tobacco industry spent millions in July and August 2020 on their attempt to defeat the bill before it passed overwhelmingly by the legislature. Spending reports will not be publicly available until October 2020. The reports should to include industry spending totals for their lobbyists, consultants, paid TV, radio, online, mail and astroturf “grassroots” activity. 

More about SB793:
Total of 64 co-authors (43 Senate, 21 Assembly), bipartisan support in both chambers, supported by all members of the CA Leg Black Caucus. Effective date: Jan 1, 2021. Floor speeches available here   

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