Smoked Out

County bans flavored tobacco, at last

By Howard Schmidt
March 2022

Snuff out those menthol cigarettes and other flavored tobacco products. As of July, selling them is banned in Sacramento County.

The prohibition means flavored smokes are banned locally no matter what California voters decide in November, when a referendum could repeal a similar statewide ban. Flavored tobacco is often marketed to new and youthful customers as a less-harsh version of the original.

The County Board of Supervisors followed a 2019 ban of flavored tobacco by the Sacramento City Council. The state Legislature passed its own ban in 2020. The state’s prohibition is on hold awaiting the November referendum.

Supervisor Patrick Kennedy said he considered proposing a flavored-tobacco ban for at least seven years. But after two terms and faced with an opponent in the June primary, he finally decided to act.

Kennedy repeated arguments long made by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention—that flavored smokes are aimed disappropriately at youth and minority communities, especially African Americans. Supervisor Phil Serna agreed, saying the county should “make it more difficult for people to poison themselves.”

Supporting the county measure were anti-smoking groups, including the African American Tobacco Control Leadership Council, Breathe California Sacramento Region and American Cancer Society.

Several small retailers opposed Kennedy’s ordinance, claiming the county made no effort to reach out to their businesses. Many noted minors are barred from purchasing tobacco and adults can make personal choices about smoking.

Hookah lounge operators said the restrictions had cultural repercussions and would force their businesses to close. Tobacco opponents countered no lounges closed after the city imposed its ban.

Supervisor Rich Desmond asked his colleagues about delaying the ban until the outcome of the November vote, which was prompted by a signature drive financed by Big Tobacco.

Kennedy is apparently worried the state ban will fall in November. He said he’s “not confident in the initiative process to come out the way we would like,” and cited how Big Tobacco is likely to influence the vote with millions of advertising dollars. Any delay, Kennedy believes, will contribute to more deaths.

Supervisor Sue Frost questioned how the ban would impact the local economy. County finance director Ben Lamera estimated the city of Sacramento might have lost $2 million in sales tax revenue.

The county ban passed 3-1. Kennedy, Serna and Don Nottoli supported it, with Frost dissenting and Desmond abstaining.
The flavored tobacco ban takes effect July 25, allowing time for retailers to deplete inventories. Before then, retailers are prohibited from purchasing additional flavored tobacco products.

Don Nottoli was named board chair for 2022, his final year before retiring after seven terms. His authority will likely mean longer meetings. Nottoli gives public speakers an additional 60 seconds to make their points, up from the normal 2 minutes. And that’s only if he watches the clock.

Howard Schmidt worked on federal, state and local levels of government, including 16 years for Sacramento County. He can be reached at Follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram: @insidesacramento

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