Long Beach adopts permanent ban on most flavored tobacco products ahead of statewide vote

The Long Beach City Council adopted a stop-gap ban on flavored tobacco products Tuesday night as California voters await a referendum on the sales of flavored tobacco products statewide.

A unanimous vote by the council will ban sales of flavored tobacco products like those used in electronic cigarettes. Menthol and fruit flavored products would be barred as well under the amended ordinance.

The ban is aimed at stopping youth from becoming addicted to tobacco products by prohibiting the sales of flavors targeting younger consumers.

Retailers that acquired more inventory since the city’s previous ban expired in January will have three months to sell off their products before being subject to enforcement by the city.

Mirroring Senate Bill 793, the state law that is the subject of a November 2022 referendum, the city ordinance will also carve out exemptions for hookah products and lounges, expensive cigars and pipe tobacco. Long Beach will join dozens of other jurisdictions across the state that have adopted bans ahead of the vote.

A challenge to the bill brought by the tobacco industry qualified for the 2022 ballot after gathering the required signatures, and also was granted an injunction against the law going into effect prior to a vote by the people. That sentiment was expressed by several store owners and industry representatives on Tuesday who argued that the middle of a pandemic was not the time to be limiting sales for small businesses.

They asked for the council to wait for the issue to be decided by California voters.

“It’s a shame that we’re in the middle of pandemic and the Long Beach health department is focused on this issue rather than opening up businesses, vaccinations, distribution and it’s a wonder why things are in such disarray for public health in general,” said Jaime Rojas, a representative from the National Association of Tobacco Outlets.

“We completely oppose this and hope City Council realizes that all they’re doing is closing more businesses.”

City staff outlined the impacts youth smoking can have on individuals, like negatively impacting the development of youth brain cells and how flavoring added to tobacco products have been linked to lung damage.

Kelly Colopy, the city’s director of health and human services, even pointed to research that has suggested both increased rates of infection of COVID-19 and worse outcomes for smokers who contract the virus.

“It’s essential to take immediate action for the safety of our youth,” Colopy said.

While the vote to extend the ban was unanimous, Councilwoman Stacy Mungo did ask if the city could focus more on enforcement than banning products. Mungo said that a smoke shop in her district has closed since the passage of the council’s original ordinance in November 2019 and he was never known to have minors in his shop.

“When you have a bad actor who does something wrong they should lose their ability to participate in the game,” Mungo said.

If state voters uphold the state legislature’s attempt to ban sales statewide, then the Long Beach ordinance would sunset. If the bill is defeated, the ordinance approved Tuesday would require another vote by the council to repeal it.

“It was the right decision; it was the moral decision,” said Councilman Al Austin, reaffirming his support for the old ban while speaking in support of Tuesday’s vote. “We know the outcomes and youth are impacted negatively if they pick up addicting habits, particularly smoking.”

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Jason Ruiz covers City Hall and politics for the Long Beach Post.
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