By Arnold Adler
DOWNEY — Not willing to wait for state or federal action on youth smoking, the City Council Sept. 14 directed city staff to report back with an ordinance aimed at regulating tobacco sales and possibly banning the sale of flavored tobacco products, including menthol cigarettes.
There was no date set for the ordinance to return to the council, a city clerk spokesperson said.
Federal action on such a ban is not expected for another year and a state law approved in August 2020 has been placed as a referendum on the November 2022 ballot, City Prosecutor James Eckart said in a written report to the council July 27.
At that time, the council postponed action on the report.
Eckart alleged that the tobacco industry has gotten around laws banning sales to those under age 21 by introducing electronic nicotine delivery systems, which include e-cigarettes for vaping and tobacco products with flavors such as grape, strawberry, orange, bubble gum, cotton candy, chocolate, vanilla, cinnamon, licorice, mint and spices.
He noted that in 2016 the Federal Drug Administration set up a process to allow it to review nicotine delivery systems and in January 2020 announced a ban on the sale of flavored e-cigarette cartridges. But that did not include other flavored tobacco products.
“Although President Biden and the FDA have indicated a commitment to ban menthol as a characterizing flavor in cigarettes and to ban all characterizing flavors in cigars, it is not expected that this will occur for at least another year,” Eckart said in his report. “
According to the American Lung Association, tobacco is the leading cause of preventable death in the state, killing 40,000 Californians every year, Eckart said.
In addition, about 40,000 California high school students smoke tobacco products, with more than 7,700 minors picking up the habit each year.
Eckart said over the past several years the number of youths who use nicotine delivery systems other than cigarettes has grown exponentially — primarily attributed to the availability of flavored tobacco products.
“In response to the trend, a large number of local municipalities have been enacting legislation to curtail access to tobacco products by minors, including the banning of flavored tobacco and otherwise regulate the retail sale of tobacco products,” Eckart said.
He said several cities in Los Angeles County already ban flavored tobacco products or restrict the sale of menthol cigarettes, including Beverly Hills, Carson, Compton, Culver City, El Monte, Maywood and West Hollywood.
“In light of the delays and ineffective efforts by federal and state government, if the City Council is interested in providing more immediate safeguards for the health, safety and welfare of the community, especially for minors, it should consider various alternative … and direct staff accordingly,” Eckart said.
Those actions could include requiring tobacco retailers to obtain a city permit in such businesses as arcades, billiard halls, dance halls, liquor stores, bars and night clubs; outright banning of flavored tobacco; or zoning restrictions which require retailers to operate a specific distance from schools and day care centers.
Current city law allows hookah and cigar lounges in some commercial zones, but minors are not permitted in such lounges.
The city also might conduct an educational program on the dangers of such products, Eckart added.