On Friday, the California Secretary of State’s office certified that a referendum challenging the state’s ban on flavored tobacco sales had garnered more than the minimum number of valid signatures and will head to the ballot in November 2022.
In the meantime, the ban is on hold, and retailers can continue selling flavored tobacco products.
The ban had been set to go into effect on Jan. 1, 2021, but was delayed until the signature verification process had been completed. In order to qualify for the ballot, organizers of the referendum submitted more than 1 million signatures, as they needed to get 623,212 verified signatures from California voters. On Friday, the Secretary of State’s office published a report indicating that organizers had gathered 781,885 valid signatures.
Had the minimum number of valid signatures not been met, the law would have taken effect once the Secretary of State had verified the process was complete. That said, there could have also been multiple legal challenges to the law that would have resulted in additional delays.
Now, the ban is suspended until at least December 2022. That is due to the fact that the election is scheduled for Nov. 8, 2022, and those results then need to be certified, meaning even if the law was approved by voters it wouldn’t be enforceable until Dec. 8, 2022.
The ban would apply to most forms of flavored tobacco including e-cigarettes, there are some exceptions. Both hookah and loose-leaf tobacco—meaning pipe tobacco—were exempt under some conditions. Flavored premium cigars could still be sold, but they would need to have a wholesale price of at least $12. If retailers used normal keystone margins like they do for other products, that would mean those cigars would start at $24 per cigar before California’s tobacco tax is added, or as much as $37 given California’s current tax rate of 56.93 percent of the wholesale price. They would also need to be handmade and have a whole leaf wrapper.
It did not make it illegal to possess or use such products, however.
In addition to the referendum, the state has also been sued over the ban by R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co., R.J. Reynolds Vapor Co., American Snuff Co. LLC, Santa Fe Natural Tobacco Co. Inc., Philip Morris USA Inc., John Middleton Co., U.S. Smokeless Tobacco Co. LLC, Helix Innovations LLC, Neighborhood Market Association Inc. and Morija LLC, which does business under the name Vapin’ the 619. That litigation is currently ongoing.