Big Tobacco Referendum Built on Lies… | Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids
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Big Tobacco Referendum Built on Lies is Desperate Attempt to Keep Hooking Kids with Candy-Flavored Tobacco

Big Tobacco Looks to Make $1.1 Billion By Stalling SB 793; Meanwhile 37,000 Kids Will Start Using E-Cigarettes
November 24, 2020

Sacramento, CA - Earlier this year, after decades of lies and tricks and smoke and mirrors from Big Tobacco, California took a landmark step to protect kids and save tens of thousands of lives by ending the sale of candy-flavored tobacco products through SB 793 (Hill). Now Big Tobacco is turning in signatures for a 2022 referendum of the law. Tobacco executives are looking to put this life-saving law on hold for 22 months - allowing them to temporarily keep cashing in on candy-flavored tobacco sales and continuing to trick California’s kids into a lifetime of nicotine addiction.

With the passage of SB 793 (Hill), California became the second state in the nation to end the sale of flavored tobacco products, including menthol cigarettes. The legislation was passed with huge bipartisan majorities in both the Assembly and Senate this year and quickly signed by Governor Gavin Newsom after reaching his desk.

“We know Big Tobacco has hidden behind smoke and lies for years to hook generations of young people on deadly tobacco products, and this referendum is just one more tactic to continue the status quo,” said Lindsey Freitas, Advocacy Director for Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids. “Governor Newsom and the Legislature stood up to Big Tobacco’s unrelentingly dishonest campaigns, and if this referendum qualifies for the ballot, we’re confident that California voters will reject Big Tobacco’s desperate attempt to keep hooking our kids for a profit. But the delay will be costly and deadly.” 

Big Tobacco spent $21 million to gather the signatures in an attempt to qualify the referendum for the November 2022 ballot; if they succeed in reaching the threshold number of signatures, January 1, 2021, implementation of SB 793 would be delayed pending the election outcome. The delay would enable Big Tobacco to generate $1.1 billion in revenue from the sale of menthol cigarettes alone during the 22 months that California’s implementation of SB 793’s flavor ban is not in effect. Approximately 17,000 lives will be lost while 37,000 more high school kids will start using e-cigarettes, costing the state $800 million in healthcare costs.

Last month, the Tobacco-Free Kids Action Fund, the American Heart Association, the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network, and the African American Tobacco Control Leadership Council called on California Attorney General Xavier Becerra and Secretary of State Alex Padilla to investigate disturbing reports of possible criminal voter fraud after multiple signature gatherers were caught on tape lying about what the referendum would do. The tapes show petition circulators telling potential signers that Big Tobacco’s referendum would stop kids from buying flavored tobacco when the opposite is true. 

“Big Tobacco has relied on hooking kids on flavored tobacco products for years. Their latest lawsuit is another attempt to disregard public health and keep making money by getting our kids hooked on deadly nicotine products. SB 793 received overwhelming bipartisan support and we look forward to seeing it implemented so that it can positively affect the health of millions of Californians,” said Kathy Rogers, Executive Vice President, American Heart Association Western States Region.

“Big Tobacco’s latest action is yet another ploy to bolster their wallets at the expense of California lives,” said Erica Costa, Advocacy Director of the American Lung Association in California. “SB 793 is critical to saving lives and protecting the public from these predatory tactics by the tobacco industry. Big Tobacco is playing this card now because they want to protect their profits, we are standing up because we must save more lives.”

“The tobacco industry uses menthol cigarettes and other candy and fruit flavored tobacco products to lure future generations into a deadly lifetime addiction. And it’s working,” said Jim Knox, American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network managing director for California. “Research shows 81% of youth who have tried tobacco start with a flavored product and 70% of current youth tobacco users have used a flavored product in the last month. Unless we rid store shelves of all flavored tobacco products, tens of thousands of California youth will remain the target of Big Tobacco’s predatory tactics.”

“This referendum is more evidence that Big Tobacco will go to any length to keep their hooks in our low-income and Black communities after spending decades targeting our communities with predatory marketing all to make a profit off Black people,” said Dr. Phil Gardiner, Co-Chair African American Tobacco Control Leadership Council. “Californians have defeated Big Tobacco on the ballot in 2016 and in cities across our state, and we know voters will stand up to this industry again - because we are committed to breaking the cycle of an industry that destroys Black lives and exploits our health for profit.”

“PAVE supported SB 793 because taking flavored tobacco products off the store shelves is a game-changer when it comes to saving kids from a lifetime of nicotine addiction,” said Meredith Berkman, Cofounder, Parents Against Vaping E-cigarettes. “It is reprehensible that Big Tobacco is using its deep pockets to qualify this referendum all to continue hooking kids on candy and menthol flavored nicotine, purposefully designed to taste better than cigarettes.”

“While Big Tobacco continues their efforts to repeal a law that protects youth from deadly and addictive tobacco products, CMA remains steadfast in our support for SB 793, and for preventing a new generation from the harms of tobacco use and exposure,” said Peter N. Bretan Jr., M.D., President of the California Medical Association (CMA). “We support upholding SB 793 because we know it will stem the tide of the current uptick in use by underage youths, while preventing future generations of Californians from the dangers and damages of tobacco use - repealing SB 793 would be a backwards step for public health.”