San Diego officially bans the sale of flavored tobacco products starting January 1

Flavored electronic cigarettes
A selection of flavored electronic cigarettes. Courtesy of San Diegans vs. Big Tobacco

The San Diego City Council on Tuesday officially passed an ordinance banning the sale of flavored tobacco products — including menthol — in the city, effective Jan. 1, 2023.

The move — led by Councilwoman Marni von Wilpert — follows similar actions in cities including Imperial Beach, Encinitas and Solana Beach, as well as San Diego County for unincorporated areas. It also comes months before a statewide referendum on the issue in November.

The council passed the first reading of the issue in April. This second vote makes the ordinance – known as the Stop Adolescent Addiction From E-Cigarettes or SAAFE Act – law.

“I thank my colleagues for standing with me in stopping Big Tobacco from creating a tobacco addiction for a whole new generation of young people by officially endorsing the SAAFE Act,” von Wilpert said. “Flavored tobacco products are intentionally marketed to children and I am proud that our city is taking action to prevent the sale of these products and protect our young people.”

The order 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 termination devices that will be also exempt from the ban.

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

“We must stop Big Tobacco from aggressively targeting our children and vulnerable communities,” she said. “Stop Adolescent Addiction From E-Cigarettes will help protect our communities from the tobacco industry that makes customers addicted to nicotine for life.”

According to findings presented in April by von Wilpert’s office, in the city’s latest study of tobacco retailers in 2019, 14.7% of retailers sold to an underage police decoy. In a forthcoming study, she says, those numbers jumped to almost 30%.

Dozens of small business owners opposed the law at the lengthy public hearing in April, saying flavored tobacco accounts for between 25% and nearly half of their business. Almost all claimed they were law-abiding business owners who had been commended by the San Diego Police Department for their honest operations. Several also decried what they called the paternalistic nature of the new City Council law, saying parents should be responsible for how children were raised, not the government.

City News Service contributed to this article.

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