In California, a campaign committee funded by R.J. Reynolds Tobacco and Philip Morris USA filed signatures for a veto referendum to repeal the state’s law banning the sale of flavored tobacco products and tobacco product flavor enhancers. The targeted bill includes an exception for hookah tobacco. If 623,212 signatures are found to be valid, then the law will be suspended until voters decide it at the election on November 8, 2022. The law was passed in August 2020 and was designed to go into effect on January 1, 2021. As of December 7, the secretary of state had reported that 758,468 signatures were filed, but raw counts were still needed from several counties, including Riverside, San Diego, and Ventura.
The campaign behind the veto referendum is called the California Coalition for Fairness, which, according to campaign communications director Beth Miller, is sponsored by tobacco manufacturers. Through the most recently filed reports (November 3), the California Coalition for Fairness had received $21.1 million, including $10.4 million from the R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company, $9.8 million from Philip Morris USA, $500,000 from ITG Brands, and $500,000 from Swedish Match North America. In a press release, the campaign stated, “We agree that youth should never have access to any tobacco products, but this can be achieved without imposing a total prohibition on products that millions of adults choose to use. This law goes too far and is unfair, particularly since lawmakers have exempted hookah, expensive cigars and flavored pipe tobacco from the prohibition. Moreover, a prohibition will hurt small, local businesses and jobs as products are pushed from licensed, conscientious retailers to an underground market, leading to increased youth access, crime and other social or criminal justice concerns for many California residents.”
State Sen. Gerald Hill (D-13), who sponsored the law banning flavored tobacco product sales, responded to the veto referendum, saying, “California fought Big Tobacco and won. This shameless industry is a sore loser and it is relentless. It wants to keep killing people with its candy-, fruit-, mint- and menthol-flavored poison. The adults who are hooked on nicotine aren’t enough for Big Tobacco; it wants our kids too.” Gov. Gavin Newsom (D), who signed the law on August 28, 2020, stated, “This is Big Tobacco’s latest attempt to profit at the expense of our kids’ health.”
California was the fifth state to pass a law banning the sale of flavored tobacco products. The others are Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, and Rhode Island. If the veto referendum appears on the ballot, California voters will be the first electorate to vote on a ban. In 2018, voters in San Francisco approved a ballot measure banning the sale of flavored tobacco products.