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California Voters Overwhelmingly Uphold Law Ending Sale of Flavored Tobacco Products, Delivering Huge Win for Kids Over Tobacco Industry

Statement of Matthew L. Myers, President, Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids
November 09, 2022

WASHINGTON, D.C.  – California voters have delivered a resounding victory for kids over the tobacco industry by voting overwhelmingly to uphold the state’s landmark law ending the sale of most flavored tobacco products, including flavored e-cigarettes, menthol cigarettes and flavored cigars. Proposition 31, the ballot referendum to uphold the law, is currently ahead by a margin of 65% to 35%. The California vote shows that voters strongly support eliminating flavored tobacco products and provides powerful momentum for similar action by other states and cities, as well as by the FDA, which has proposed rules prohibiting menthol cigarettes and flavored cigars.

Tobacco giants Philip Morris and R.J. Reynolds spent over $20 million on the referendum to overturn the 2020  law, once again putting profits over lives and making about $800 million in revenue from menthol cigarette sales alone by delaying implementation of the law for two years. But they were defeated by an even more powerful force supporting the law, including a diverse and determined coalition of over 200 public health, medical, parent, civil rights, education, business, faith, community and other organizations, as well as elected officials from throughout California. The Tobacco-Free Kids Action Fund was proud to be part of this coalition.

We are also grateful to Michael R. Bloomberg for the exceptional leadership he provided in this campaign. No single individual has done more to fight tobacco use and save lives around the world.

The message from this vote is unmistakable: It’s time for policymakers at every level to stop the tobacco industry from using flavored, nicotine-loaded products to addict another generation of kids. It’s also time to end the industry’s predatory targeting of Black and other communities with menthol cigarettes, which has had a devastating toll on Black lives and is a major contributor to health disparities. Researchers estimate that ending the sale of menthol cigarettes in California will lead over 25,000 smokers to quit and save over $400 million in health care costs.

California joins Massachusetts and the District of Columbia in ending the sale of flavored tobacco products, including flavored e-cigarettes, menthol cigarettes and flavored cigars. Three other states – New Jersey, New York and Rhode Island – prohibit the sale of flavored e-cigarettes. With local laws included, 25% of the U.S. population will now be covered by laws ending the sale of flavored e-cigarettes. 

Background on the California law and flavored tobacco products

In 2020, California lawmakers overwhelmingly passed a bipartisan law to end the sale of most flavored tobacco products, including flavored e-cigarettes, menthol cigarettes and flavored cigars. The law was passed in response to the clear evidence that flavored products have fueled the youth e-cigarette epidemic and the tobacco industry’s continued targeting of Black and other communities, especially kids, with flavored products like menthol cigarettes and flavored cigars.  

E-cigarettes: Flavored e-cigarettes have fueled an epidemic of youth e-cigarette use and nicotine addiction. The 2022 National Youth Tobacco Survey showed that over 2.5 million U.S. kids currently use e-cigarettes, and 85% of them use flavored products.

Menthol cigarettes: Scientific evidence shows that menthol cigarettes are more addictive, easier for kids to start smoking and harder for smokers to quit. Menthol numbs the throat and masks the harshness of cigarette smoke, making it easier for kids to start smoking and eventually become addicted. Because of decades of predatory marketing by the tobacco industry, 85% of Black smokers now smoke menthol cigarettes, compared to less than 10% in the 1950s. Menthol cigarettes are a major reason why tobacco use is the number one cause of preventable death among Black Americans – claiming 45,000 Black lives every year – and why Black Americans die at high rates from tobacco-related diseases like cancer, heart disease and stroke. Use of menthol cigarettes is also disproportionately high among other communities of color, the LGBTQ+ community, socioeconomically disadvantaged populations, and people with mental health conditions.

Flavored cigars: Cheap, flavored cigars – sold in hundreds of flavors like cherry dynamite, tropical twist and chocolate – have flooded the market in recent years and fueled the popularity of these products with kids. A 2021 survey found that cigars are the second most popular tobacco product (after e-cigarettes) among high school students and are especially popular among Black high school students.