Passed in a 7–2 vote at the April 25 council meeting, the ordinance was introduced by Councilwoman Marni von Wilpert in an effort to address adolescent addiction to flavored e-cigarettes and was supported by local school officials.
“Every school district in the San Diego County region has passed a resolution asking us to ban the sale of most flavored tobacco products because they see what’s happening to their students in their school. It is clear that flavors hook kids,” von Wilpert said at the council meeting.
In addition, the ordinance will also align the city with the state policy by prohibiting the sale of tobacco products and electronic cigarettes to people under 21.
The ordinance will take effect on January 1, 2023. Retailers who violate the ordinance may face up to a $1,000 fine.
Von Wilpert said a recent study conducted by the California Department of Public Health found that about 28 percent of stores in the city were willing to sell tobacco products to underage kids.
She also presented a petition letter from Mt. Carmel High School, a school in her district, urging the city council to approve the ordinance to “[protect] the health and well-being of youth.”
“These products are fueling a youth nicotine crisis,” the letter read. “We hope San Diego will join other cities in California with the banning of flavored nicotine products.”
However, she noted, the ordinance does not apply to the sale of shisha, premium cigars, loose-leaf tobacco, unflavored or tobacco-flavored e-cigarette, and FDA-approved devices for smoking cessation.
Students voiced their support for the flavored tobacco ban during the public comment session.
Joel Castro, a high school student at Hoover High School, said he has witnessed many of his peers being victimized by the flavored tobacco products.
“Just across of school, in fact, there is a retailer that sells flavored tobacco to minors. It has become far too easy for youth to fall victim to addiction – tactics are engineered to target them,” Castro wrote in a public comment sent to the meeting.
Agreeing with Castro, Sasha Krasnitskaya, an 18-year-old student at San Diego State University, said she was offered flavored tobacco products in 20 percent of the stores she visited when she participated in a minor tobacco purchase survey.
“I support the ban of flavored tobacco,” Krasnitskaya wrote in a public comment. “Nicotine is not a necessity, and we must protect our population from the harmful effects of nicotine use.”
Although the move was applauded by students and school officials, critics of the ban said that these products can be helpful for people who are quitting smoking and that limiting product availability will hurt the local economy and lead consumers to the black market.
“I’ve firsthand seen how these products are able to assist in quitting addiction to nicotine,” Jacob Salisbury, a San Diego resident.
David Kanteman, owner of two vape shops in San Diego, said he opened the vape shop to help people quit smoking cigarettes, and the ban would drive customers to black markets.
“The city council of San Diego would be doing an unjustifiable amount of damage to everyone by giving their city the only option of cigarettes or an illegal black market of unregulated vape sales,” Kanteman wrote in his public comment.
Fidel Issa, a local business owner, said the ban will cripple the local economy because flavored tobacco will still be available in other cities and on the black market.
“As business owners, we care about kids’ lives too. That’s why we deny selling any tobacco product to the underaged, but by doing this you’re just creating a big black market out there for them,” Issa said.
Another tobacco retailer, Angelo Nissou, said that he checks customers’ IDs before selling tobacco products to anyone.
“I have been in business for a while and conduct ID checks and make sure products are sold to adults over the age of 21,” Nissou said. “By passing this ban, it will just lead everyone to the black market.”