Walnut Creek became the first city in Contra Costa County to ban the sale of flavored tobacco products and electronic smoking devices in an effort to reduce nicotine addiction among young people.
The ban, unanimously approved by the council on Wednesday, will apply to menthol cigarettes, vape pens and any other tobacco product that has a distinct flavor in addition to that of regular cigarettes.
Additionally, the policy will ban the sale of devices that convert tobacco into vapor for ingestion – a popular alternative to conventional flame-lit tobacco products. The city will begin enforcing the ordinance in five months.
While the ordinance will ban sales for everyone, the council has made it clear that its intention is to cut off the supply of these addictive products to young people in the city. Cherise Khaund, president of the Mount Diablo Unified School District, told Tuesday’s meeting that the use of flavored tobacco and vapes is rampant among students.
Many devices for sale are available in vibrant colors, often in the form of pens, highlighters, and USB devices – items that can easily be hidden as school supplies. Khaund said students surprised with these products admit getting them at gas stations and convenience stores, adding that the products are “all so clearly and clearly aimed at young people.”
“What we are seeing in our schools is that despite massive education campaigns and campus supervisors trying to monitor at all times, students still have access to these devices,” Khaund said.
Drew Christie, a 17-year-old student at Contra Costa Christian School in Walnut Creek, said he has seen his friends find “a million ways to access” vapers and e-cigarettes.
“The ordinance itself doesn’t discriminate, if you will, between young people and adults,” Deputy City Attorney Brian Hickey said. “But the impetus for the prescription is essentially… based on data that they are extremely popular with young smokers. “
The town’s ban is similar to the one approved by the Contra Costa County Supervisory Board in 2019, which only applied to unincorporated areas. San José approved a similar ban in September.
California, meanwhile, last year introduced a statewide ban on flavored tobacco, menthol and electronic smoking devices. But the law is currently not enforced – opponents have collected enough signatures to bring the issue to voters in the November 2022 election.
No one spoke out against the Walnut Creek Flavored Tobacco Ordinance on Tuesday, which exempts hookah companies that only allow customers 21 and over to enter.
Some urged the council not to apply the ban to electronic devices that vaporize marijuana. Hickey said those who need electronic devices to consume weed can find them outside of Walnut Creek or order them from their homes.
Voting to approve the order, council members Matt Francois and Cindy Silva said smoking has directly affected their families.
“My children have two grandparents who are not here today because they died of lung cancer,” François said. “One was my mom, who was addicted to menthol cigarettes when I was young, and I think this is the latest version of that. As long as we can keep people from getting addicted to these products at one young age, that’s what we should be doing.