For years, California Democratic lawmakers have sought to ban the sale of flavored tobacco products, which evidence shows can lure young people into tobacco addiction.
In 2020, it looked like they had finally won. Governor Gavin Newsom signed into law SB 793, banning the sale of most flavored tobacco products, including e-cigarettes and menthol cigarettes.
But tobacco giants like RJ Reynolds and Philip Morris USA have spent millions circulating referendum petitions across the state. In early 2021, Proposition 31 qualified for the ballot. By blocking the ban from taking effect, millions of tobacco sales that otherwise would have been banned continued until voters had a say.
What does a “yes” vote mean?
A “yes” to Prop. 31 would prohibit the sale, in stores or in vending machines, of most flavored tobacco products and tobacco product flavor enhancers. The ban would not apply to hookah, pipe and loose-leaf tobacco or high-priced cigars.
What does a “no” vote mean?
A “no” would prevent the introduction of the flavored tobacco ban; these products would remain legal for sale in California.
Young people who might otherwise start smoking. Proponents point to federal data showing that four out of five people who started did so with a flavored product.
Tobacco is also the number one preventable cause of death in California; tobacco-related diseases such as lung cancer kill more than 40,000 state residents each year, Proponents of Proposition 31 say. That’s more than alcohol, AIDS, car accidents, illicit drugs, murders and suicides combined.
Proponents of Proposition 31 also point to the industry’s history of marketing certain flavored tobacco products, such as menthol cigarettes, to communities of color and LGBTQ communities. The ban on sales will benefit them.
Tobacco companies stand to lose millions in sales.
Critics of Prop. 31 say the ban is tantamount to a ban, something that didn’t work with alcohol or marijuana. They claim that almost half of the cigarettes sold in California come from the illicit market, smuggled in from China or Mexico. The ban, opponents say, will only lead to a surge in clandestine sales.
Opponents say the switch would cost California more than $1 billion in cigarette tax revenue over the next four years. The State’s Office of the Legislative Analyst estimates much smaller losses: between tens of millions and $100 million a year. Last year, total tobacco tax revenue was about $2 billion.
follow the money
Fans have raised more than $6.2 million so far and spent $4.4 million, according to Ballotpedia, which takes its data from the California secretary of state.
Major donors include former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, Kaiser Foundation Health Plan, American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network, American Heart Association and American Lung Association.
Opponents have raised more than $22.9 million and spent $22.8 million so far, according to Ballotpedia.
Major backers of the No On 31 campaign include RJ Reynolds Tobacco Company, Philip Morris USA, American Snuff Company, ITG Brands and Swedish Match North America.