On Monday, July 19, the La Verne City Council unanimously passed an ordinance banning the sale of flavored tobacco within the City. While California Senate Bill 793, which banned the sale of flavored tobacco, was technically passed in 2020 it was placed on hold so it could be brought before voters in the November 2022 statewide ballot. Rather than wait, the La Verne Youth and Family Action Committee requested that the City ban the sale of flavored tobacco through a local ordinance. The La Verne Youth and Family Action Committee is composed of citizens, law enforcement personnel, school district employees and local non-profit groups.
Flavored tobacco has been shown to increase the likelihood that someone, especially children, will try tobacco products and remain long-term users. In fact, 81% of minors and 86% of young adults who have used a tobacco product report that their first tobacco product was flavored. The child-friendly flavors are marketed with bright colors and lower prices to entice children to purchase and use these harmful flavored tobacco products. Flavored tobacco masks the strong taste of tobacco, making smoking seem less harmful. In just two years, from 2017 to 2019, e-cigarette use has doubled among high school students.
“Since the emergence of flavored tobacco products, vapes and e-cigarettes, smoking has become an epidemic among young people throughout the country,” said La Verne Mayor Tim Hepburn. “The coronavirus pandemic has only further revealed the negative impact of using such products, especially at a young age, when their bodies should be more able to fight off infections, but smoking youths were left more vulnerable to COVID-19. We are proud to pass this ordinance to protect our community’s children.”
According to numerous studies, including one published by the Tobacco Induced Diseases Medical Journal, people who smoke were 1.4 times more likely to have severe COVID-19 symptoms and 2.4 times more likely to be admitted to an Intensive Care Unit compared to those who did not smoke. The damage done to lungs by smoking and vaping actually leaves individuals vulnerable to a variety of respiratory infections, from COVID-19 to bronchitis and pneumonia.
The new La Verne ordinance also formally expands the definition of “smoking” to include electronic smoking devices and vaping devices. However, the new ordinance exempts the sale of flavored shisha tobacco, which is used in hookah pipes. Similarly, menthol cigarettes are not included in the list of banned tobacco products due to the outstanding legal challenges on the subject.
“The role of the La Verne Police Department is to protect the community through the enforcement of law; however, an extremely important part of these efforts is also connecting with and educating residents about these laws,” said Lieutenant Sam Gonzalez. “In fact, the La Verne Police Department received a $211,000 two-year grant for tobacco-related education, programming and enforcement, allowing us to increase public awareness of both the new law and dangers associated with flavored tobacco to help keep our residents safe and healthy.”
As of July 1, 2021, 215 municipalities have enacted laws restricting the sale of flavored tobacco. In cities with similar laws, the ban on flavored cigarettes correlated with a 17% reduction in the likelihood of middle and high school students becoming smokers and a 58% decrease in cigarettes smoked by young people. Overall, there was a 6% reduction in the probability of adolescents smoking any kind of tobacco product.
The second reading of the new tobacco ordinance will take place at the next La Verne City Council meeting on August 2, 2021. The new ordinance would go into effect in January 2022.