To vape or not to vape? Long Beach City Council moves forward with ban on flavored tobacco products

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Cotton candy, mango guava, watermelon bubblegum— all of these tobacco flavors and more may soon disappear from the shelves of Long Beach retailers.

At their Tuesday, Feb. 9 meeting, the Long Beach City Council directed staff to prepare an ordinance banning the sale of flavored tobacco products within the city. 

“Smoking and the negative outcomes disproportionately do affect Black people and communities of color,” Councilmember Al Austin, who lost his mother to lung cancer, said. “The moral thing to do, the right thing to do would be to support this permanent ban.”

In December 2019, the council adopted an ordinance banning the sale of certain flavored tobacco products in the City, including flavored cigarillos, electronic smoking devices, flavored nicotine fluids and menthol cigarettes. The ban expired on Jan. 4 of this year.

Since then, retailers have been able to sell flavored tobacco products at their stores. Over the past few years, vaping amongst teens has skyrocketed, even though users must be 21 or older to purchase them.

“There’s an invisible plague that still haunts us,” Ava Carbonara, a senior at Wilson High School, said. “A virus that, in addition to the wrath of COVID-19, threatens the lives and wellbeing of those it captures. Youth nicotine addiction and the appeal of flavored vaping products is as dangerous as ever, pandemic withstanding.”

According to a study by the Stanford University School of Medicine, teens who vape may be five to seven times more likely to be infected by COVID-19 than those who do not vape. 

“Returning to in-person learning will never be safe as long as smoking persists on my campus,” Carbonara said.

Business owners, on the other hand, have already been struggling through the pandemic. As flavored tobacco products have increased in popularity, so have sales.

“One of the worst things that we can do for our youth in our upcoming generations is take away their right to make a choice,” resident Vanessa Bautista said. “Don’t take the business’s fate into your hands. Let California voice their opinions, exercise their vote and be educated.”

Councilmember Stacy Mungo voiced a desire to set up a strike policy to catch underage sales at the source rather than banning all flavored tobacco outright.

“We have restaurants that violate [the health order] and restaurants that are good. We wouldn’t want to shut down all the restaurants because two or three restaurants aren’t meeting the health guidelines,” Mungo said. “Why are we not bringing forward an item that says, one strike, you lose your tobacco license completely?”

Councilmember Cindy Allen said that the outright ban would be more effective. She said that her son quit smoking during the ban because he got tired of driving to other cities to buy menthol cigarettes. 

“This is a public health issue,” Allen said. “I’m here to tell you that the ban works. We are saving lives and we are helping our youth. And I think this is a major step forward in improving the health of our communities.”

Bans on flavored tobacco products aren’t new in the State of California. Last August, the California legislature passed Senate Bill 793, which banned the sale of flavored tobacco products statewide. Flavored hookah and premium cigars were exempted under the bill and will remain exempt under Long Beach’s ban.

Initially, the bill was set to take effect on Jan. 1 of this year. However, special interest groups gathered enough signatures to delay the implementation. The ban has been postponed pending the outcome of a referendum slated for the 2022 statewide election. 

As for any statewide legislation, the choice remains in the voters’ hands. 

Long Beach is still free to set up its own ban. The planned ordinance has a built-in sunset that would be triggered by the passage of statewide legislation.

The planned ordinance also includes a three-month moratorium on enforcement to allow retailers to sell off any newly acquired flavored tobacco products. 

The council voted unanimously on the creation of an ordinance, which is expected to return to the council in the coming months.

The next Long Beach City Council meeting will take place Tuesday, Feb. 16 at 5 p.m. via teleconference.

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