The Pacifica City Council asked staff to bring back a draft ordinance for consideration that would prohibit the sale of flavored tobacco anywhere in Pacifica, except hookah tobacco, which could be sold in over-21 stores, prohibit the sale of e-cigarettes and prohibit the sale of tobacco products in pharmacies.

City staff got the request at the City Council’s Sept. 27 meeting and is working to develop such an ordinance.

City Council had discussed this ban at an earlier meeting but decided to wait to see the outcome of a new state law that might have banned such flavored products, said Police Chief Dan Steidle at the City Council meeting. A new state law, signed by the governor, would have banned the sale of flavored tobacco products or a tobacco product flavor enhancer out of concern that such products are attractive to minors. It was stopped by a referendum that places the issue on the November 2022 state ballot so voters will decide whether to enact or repeal SB 793.

City Council listed the sale of flavored tobacco as one of its 17 priorities earlier this year, Steidle said.

Tobacco-Free Kids, a nonprofit that works to reduce youth access to tobacco, said 81 percent of youth started with a flavored product and 72.3 percent have had a flavored tobacco product in the last month, Steidle said. At least two-thirds of youth who use the products said they use tobacco because it comes in flavors they like. Tobacco companies have a long history of developing and marketing flavored tobacco products as “starter” products that attract kids, Steidle said.

The FDA stated e-cigarettes are unhealthy, and recommended smokers who have chosen to vape not return to cigarette smoking but rather should seek FDA-approved smoking cessation medications, Steidle said. San Francisco suspended the sale of electronic cigarettes except those that have gone through the required premarket review by the FDA, Steidle said.

The Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act passed by Congress in 2009 bans cigarettes with flavors other than menthol or tobacco. Flavored e-cigarettes and chewing tobacco are unregulated. E-cigarette manufacturers were required to submit applications to the FDA for product approval by Sept. 9, 2020. A year later, the FDA announced it had processed most of the applications received and had issued marketing denial orders for more than 946,000 flavored vaping products because of the alarming levels of youth use of such products, Steidle said.

Steidle noted there are places in San Mateo County that prohibit the sales of flavored tobacco products. Burlingame, East Palo Alto, Half Moon Bay, Menlo Park Portola Valley, San Carlos, San Mateo and South San Francisco all either ban all e-cigarette sales or flavored tobacco. In unincorporated San Mateo County, it’s illegal to sell e-cigarettes. No litigation to date has been successful in overturning these ordinances, Steidle said.

The ordinance will not ban cannabis e-cigarette products. The city attorney’s office estimates legal costs relating to preparing the ordinance will be $6,000, Steidle said.

Mayor Pro Tem Mary Bier was one of the council members who asked for the ban. She works with youth at the Jefferson Union High School District who had advocated to their peers to lead tobacco-free lives.

“We need to consider the entire community when banning flavored tobacco. It’s bad for the health of the whole community,” she said. “I want to ban all flavored tobacco. The flavored tobacco is doing nothing but harm to our community. We want to ban all e-cigarette products, too. It’s a bait and switch.”

Mayor Sue Beckmeyer said Pacifica has 24 tobacco retailers.

Several speakers spoke in favor of banning flavored tobacco. One small business owner spoke against it, saying a complete ban will only make customers go out of town to buy the products.

Laurie Bremer spoke on behalf of a group called Parents Against Vaping who said her son had mood swings from nicotine addiction.

“The fun flavors are attractive to kids. Don’t let them be sold,” she said.

Bob Gordon of San Mateo County Tobacco Education Coalition said, “These products find their way into middle schools and high schools. Ban the sale of tobacco at the pharmacies.”

Jefferson Union High School District Superintendent Toni Presta supports the ban.

Jane Northrop has covered Pacifica for the Pacifica Tribune since 1996. She has won first place John Swett Awards from the California Teachers Association for her coverage of education.

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