Julie Watson | Associated Press
A campaign funded by tobacco companies effectively blocked a California law passed two years ago that would have banned flavored tobacco products such as menthol cigarettes and strawberry gummy vaping juice.
Voters were deciding Tuesday whether to let the ban finally go into effect or toss out the law altogether.
Early results showed a yes vote, which would put the ban into effect, was in the lead. With 7.2% of precincts reporting, 65.7% of voters had voted yes.
Supporters of the ban, who include doctors, child welfare advocates and the state’s dominant Democratic Party, said the law is necessary to put a stop to the staggering rise in teen smoking.
But tobacco companies have been pushing hard to keep from being shut out of a large portion of California’s vast market. California’s Republican party also opposes the ban, saying it would cause a giant loss in tax revenue. The independent Legislative Analyst’s Office estimates it could cost the state tens of millions of dollars to around $100 million annually.
Tobacco giants, including R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co. and Philip Morris USA, spent $20 million on a campaign that gathered enough signatures to put the issue on the statewide ballot.
If voters keep the law, California would become the second state in the nation to enact such a ban after Massachusetts. A number of cities, including Los Angeles and San Diego, have already enacted their own bans.
It’s already illegal for retailers to sell tobacco to anyone under 21. But advocates of the ban say flavored cigarettes and vaping cartridges are still too easy for teens to obtain. The ban wouldn’t make it a crime to possess such products, but retailers who sold them to kids could be fined up to $250.
The ban, which passed the Legislature with bipartisan support, would also prohibit the sale of pods for vape pens, tank-based systems and chewing tobacco, with exceptions made for hookahs, some cigars and loose-leaf tobacco.