On Monday, the California Secretary of State and Attorney General’s offices announced that the statewide ban on flavored tobacco products that was to come into effect on January 1st would be delayed pending valid signature counting for a proposed statewide veto proposition.
The ban had been approved by Governor Gavin Newsom and the state legislature earlier this year. Senate Bill 793, authored by Senator Jerry Hill (D-San Mateo), had been nearly unanimously passed in both houses, facing little opposition from the few legislators coming out against the bill. The bill, which bans the sale of all flavored tobacco products, flavored e-cigarettes, and flavored vaping products in California with the exception of some hookah products, premium cigars, and loose-leaf tobacco, as well as giving a $250 per sale violation of such a product, was given a firm January 1, 2021 start date to give retailers enough time to plan accordingly.
However, many retailers decried the ban, as did many smokers and vapers. Tobacco companies led by the R.J Reynolds Tobacco Company, Philip Morris USA, and ITG Brands, quickly formed the California Coalition for Fairness following the bill signing in August and put together a veto referendum. Their goal was to not only get the 623,212 valid signatures needed to get a veto proposition on the ballot, but to get it done before the planned ban on January 1st to at least delay SB 793 from coming into effect.
Throughout the fall and winter, the California Coalition for Fairness managed to get more than 1 million signatures, a figure that tobacco companies hope will be enough once signatures are weeded out for being multiples, invalid, not being allowed to vote, and other disqualifying reasons.
“More than 1 million California voters signed the petition to place the measure on the ballot, and this stipulation honors their rights,” said the California Coalition for Fairness in a statement.
Many lawmakers condemned the attempt by the tobacco companies, including SB 793 author Senator Hill.
“California fought Big Tobacco and won,” said Senator Hill earlier this month. “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.”
623,212 signatures needed for veto proposition
However, due to enough raw votes being turned in on time, the state will now delay SB 793 from coming into effect on January 1st. The delay on enforcement will continue until all county clerks have sent in their respective verified signature totals.
Should the veto referendum get past the 623,212 valid signature mark, it will be made into a proposition and will be placed on the next statewide election, which will take place in November 2022 at the latest. It would also delay the law from coming into effect, keeping flavored products legal until the vote. If the state finds that not enough valid signatures were collected, then the law will take effect as soon as the results are announced.
“This is a last ditch attempt by the tobacco industry,” former lobbyist David Weinberg explained to the Globe. “They played every other hand they were dealt and this is their last real shot at keeping those products in stores in California.
“Honestly, they probably have enough signatures, so they’ll at least stave it off for awhile. California voters have, in recent years, been more in favor of reducing the presence of tobacco products, but let’s not forget that voters there also voted down a public smoking ban there in 1994 (Proposition 188) by a 70%-30% split. It’s not a sure thing that voters would automatically allow a flavored ban, especially if the companies keep tying them with shop sales as businesses struggle post-coronavirus.”
Final signature results are expected by the end of January 2021.