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The San Jose City Council has voted in favor of a city-wide ban on selling flavored tobacco products, making it the largest city in the state to do so.
In an effort to prevent a new generation of tobacco users drawn to flavored e-cigarettes and menthol cigarettes, the ordinance approved Tuesday prohibits all sales of flavored tobacco products and prevents smoke shops from opening within 1,000 feet of schools, community centers, parks or libraries.
Tobacco retailers have until June 30, 2022, to remove flavored products from their stores. Hookah retailers are exempt from the ordinance.
The city will enforce the ban on retailers with at least one check-in per year. Fine amounts are yet to be determined.
Councilmembers plan to take a second vote at an upcoming meeting on a separate ordinance that would prohibit any smoking — including cannabis, cigarettes and cigars — inside multi-family housing units.
Under existing city regulations, smoking is prohibited only in publicly accessible and common areas of multi-family housing. The new ordinance would prohibit indoor smoking at housing sites with three or more units. Motels, hotels, duplexes and condominiums would be exempt.
Broad community support
Prior to the vote, several councilmembers gathered with Mayor Sam Liccardo and other local leaders Monday to rally behind the ordinances — emphasizing these bans are aimed to protect San Jose’s youth.
“We are advocating here for the kids,” Councilmember Pam Foley said. “Teens are particularly susceptible to big tobacco advertising with nearly 90 percent of smokers starting by age 18 and four out of five kids who have used tobacco started with the flavored products.”
Foley continued that Tuesday’s vote is the culmination of years of work and advocacy, even before her time on the City Council.
In 2019, she introduced the ban of flavored tobacco products as a priority item for the city. Councilmembers agreed.
“These are kiddos who are developing their young minds and bodies and have no business risking their health while vaping. All these e-cigarette flavors may taste like candy but it’s poison to our children.”Councilmember Magdalena Carrasco
“I interviewed a dozen high school teens in a focus group on their use of vaping,” Foley said. “I was really frankly alarmed to learn how easy it was for these kids to gain access to not only flavored tobacco, but these devices, even though it’s illegal for them to own it.”
In fact, a 2019 study by Santa Clara County’s health department found that one in every three teens in the county reported having used an e-cigarette at least once.
Among current teen tobacco users, 82.3 percent reported using a flavored product.
And more than 2 in 5 teens (45.4 percent) reported purchasing their own e-cigarettes, with over a quarter of this group reporting that they bought them directly from a local store, county data revealed.
“These are kiddos who are developing their young minds and bodies and have no business risking their health while vaping,” said Councilmember Magdalena Carrasco on Monday. “All these e-cigarette flavors may taste like candy but it’s poison to our children.”
Carrasco also emphasized that flavored tobacco products disproportionately impact Black and Latino youth, as many tobacco retailers are concentrated within East San Jose — a sentiment echoed by Vice Mayor Chappie Jones and NAACP President Bob Nunez.
San Jose joins a growing list of communities
San Jose is not the first municipality to enact such a ban. More than 100 cities across the state, including San Francisco and Oakland and about half the cities in Santa Clara County, already have bans in place.
California Gov. Gavin Newsom also signed a bill last year to prohibit the sale of most flavored tobacco products. However, the tobacco industry quickly responded with a referendum campaign which places a hold on the ban until voters decide whether to enact it in 2022.
However, some studies indicate that such bans may not be as effective as proponents hope.
A 2021 study conducted by Yale School of Public Health, and posted in JAMA Pediatrics, found that the rate of high schoolers smoking conventional cigarettes doubled in San Francisco after they prohibited the sale of flavored tobacco products in 2018.
Data from a 2019 Youth Risk Behavior Survey also found that 16 percent of San Francisco high school students had used a vapor product on at least one occasion in 2019 — a 125 percent increase from 2017 when 7.1 percent of San Francisco high school students reported using an e-cigarette.
Still, the ordinance banning sales has garnered a lot of support in San Jose. Proponents include Santa Clara County Health Officer Dr. Sara Cody, the county’s office of education, and several other labor, social and racial justice and medical groups in the city.
The ordinance aligns with state and federal regulations so retailers that sell hookah or hookah related products are exempt from the ban.
That keeps the city’s 13 hookah lounges safe for now, but more than 650 San Jose tobacco retailers will have to make the shift.
A ban of flavored tobacco products is a move 80 percent of tobacco retailers predictably oppose, a recent study by the city found.
However, a survey of nearly 600 registered voters in San Jose, found 73 percent support a proposal that would prohibit the sale of flavored tobacco in the city — and more than three in five do so “strongly.”
The ordinance gives retailers a six-month grace period to remove prohibited products from their shelves. So, by June 30, 2022, San Joseans wishing to purchase flavored tobacco products may have to look outside of city limits to do so.