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Proponents of nicotine ban gather early to fight ‘big tobacco’


Though the New Year has just begun, some Californians are already touting the significance of the November 2022 ballot.

As OurWeekly reported last March, the tobacco industry turned in enough signatures to call for a referendum of a state law which would have been one of the country’s strongest restrictions on the sale of flavored tobacco. Even though SB 793 was signed by Gov. Gavin Newsom in 2020, this fall voters must choose to uphold or reverse the ban.

“Once again, Big Tobacco has picked a fight with California, and they’ll use every trick in their playbook – spending millions of dollars to confuse and lie to voters – just so they can keep selling highly-addictive, candy-flavored nicotine to our kids,” said Carol McGruder, co-chair of the African American Tobacco Control Leadership Council (AATCLC).

“We are sending a clear message to tobacco companies: that we won’t stand by and let them continue to profit off the addiction, disease, and death their products cause,” McGruder said. “We won’t let them continue to deliberately market minty-menthol cigarettes in Black neighborhoods.”

During the webinar, McGruder said that the tobacco industry used to give away free Newports in every major city in the country. She joined a coalition including Sen. Alex Padilla; Board of Equalization Chair, Hon. Malia Cohen; Parents Against Vaping e-cigarettes; Kaiser Permanente; and the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids on a recent webinar to launch the “Yes to Protect California Kids” campaign.

The group labeled the tobacco industry as “predatory” and said that smoking among youth has reached epidemic proportions, as more than 2 million young Californians are using tobacco on a regular basis.

“Our strong coalition of kids, parents, and public health experts is more committed than ever to making sure every Californian votes yes on the 2022 ballot to keep the next generation safe and healthy.”

Webinar attendees previewed a public service announcement (PSA) which highlights colorfully-wrapped, pineapple and gummy bear flavored tobacco products.

“It looks like candy, smells like candy,” the PSA said. “But it’s poison.”

Coalition memebers said that 4 out of 5 youth start smoking with a flavored tobacco product, but they can be hooked on nicotine for life.

“Most of us have lost family members to big tobacco,” McGruder said. “Think of the more than 45,000 Black souls who die every year from tobacco-related diseases. Think of the impact on the Black community of all these deaths.”

The group labels the tobacco industry’s products as “candy-flavored tricks.” This includes menthol-flavored cigarettes, popular in the Black community, as the mint taste masks the harsh taste of smoking.

“Kaiser Permanente strongly supports removing all flavored tobacco products from the market, including menthol cigarettes and flavored e-cigarettes,” said Dr. Bechara Choucair, SVP and chief health officer for Kaiser Permanente. “Make no mistake, flavors hook kids. The sweet flavors entice them and a strong hit of nicotine addicts them — potentially for life.”

Cohen said she remembers going to the corner store to purchase menthol cigarettes for grandmother.

“It was difficult to see her with that addiction, and then oxygen tanks later in her life,” she said. “Californians have a decision to make this November: Will they vote YES to protect kids from candy-flavored nicotine – or will they stand with Big Tobacco.”

Organizers recognize that the November vote may not put an end to the controversy.

“We know that a law is not magic,” McGruder said. “We know we’re in a David and Goliath battle. But they know that as California goes, there goes the nation, so let’s get it done.”