December8 , 2023

Why Milpitas’ ban on flavored tobacco, vaping products could take months


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Milpitas officials signaled their support this week for banning the sale of flavored tobacco products within city limits, as part of a wave of California and South Bay cities that have already adopted rules intended to limit youth exposure and access to tobacco.

However, it still could be several months before such a ban takes shape and goes into effect in Milpitas, as the council indicated they’d prefer to start their own tobacco retail license and enforcement program.

The city leaders had the option to partner with the Santa Clara County Health Department to administer such a program in the city, which officials said could have been implemented more quickly.

While any new rules, and costs for such a program would need to be reviewed and approved by the council in the coming months, the council unanimously agreed during its meeting Tuesday that the city should put in place restrictions similar to those approved last week in San Jose.

The much larger South Bay city voted on Sept. 28 to prohibit the sale of flavored tobacco, including menthol cigarettes, as well as e-cigarettes and other vaping products.

San Jose’s ban included some exceptions, allowing flavored hookah and shisha products to be sold by adult-only hookah tobacco retailers, as well as the continued sale of premium cigars, and loose leaf tobacco.

“I think it’s really, really important for us to get this kind of stuff away from our kids,” Milpitas Councilmember Karina Dominguez said during the city’s Oct. 5 council meeting.

Many cities in the Bay Area have adopted bans on flavored tobacco products, with advocates and public health agencies such as the CDC saying the sweet, candy-like flavors of “e-juices” that fill vapes and e-cigarettes, often including nicotine, are “highly addictive,” according to Milpitas city staff reports.

“Flavored tobacco products are considered ‘starter’ products for youth who begin to use tobacco, establishing tobacco habits that can lead to long-term addiction. Youth believe that flavored tobacco products are safer and less addictive than non-flavored varieties,” the report said.

Citing data from the 2019-20 California Youth Tobacco Survey, Milpitas city reports said that almost a quarter of students in Santa Clara County have tried vaping, and just over 93% of teens currently using tobacco reported using a flavored product. About 80% of youth who have ever used tobacco started with a flavored product.

California passed a law in 2020 prohibiting the sale of most flavored tobacco products including menthol-flavored cartridges and refillable vaping systems that was scheduled to take effect at the beginning of 2021. However, opponents of the bill, including the tobacco industry, pushed to have California voters decide on the bill in a referendum currently slated for November 2022.

Even if it passes, the law could still be delayed further by a tobacco industry lawsuit, according to city staff reports.

Meanwhile, Santa Clara County health officials have been encouraging cities around the region in a bid to restrict access to the products locally in the meantime.

After hearing a presentation from city staff, Milpitas Mayor Rich Tran on Tuesday initially tried to delay taking up the issue, saying he wanted to “really follow what the state of California is doing up in Sacramento with this.”

He said he was aware “there may be some actions or developments happening in Sacramento with this.” Vice Mayor Carmen Montano agreed it should be postponed.

But Councilmember Evelyn Chua said she hadn’t heard anything about “movement in Sacramento” from staff members. Tran then seemed to abandon his idea to postpone the discussion.

“There’s no time for postponement,” Chua said later in the meeting. “We need to act now.”

Approximately 40 tobacco retailers currently operate in Milpitas, city reports said.

Vanessa Marvin, the co-chair of the Tobacco Free Coalition of Santa Clara County, called into the meeting saying the issue is very serious for those affected by it, and encouraged Milpitas to move quickly to join other cities who’ve banned the sale of the products.

“We hear from youth about how hard this problem is to deal with, we hear from schools and teachers about kids vaping in classrooms and school bathrooms….parents who are trying to figure out what to do with their kids who are addicted to vaping,” she said.

“I know none of us would want Milpitas to be the last city to move forward in the county and be known as a place, especially for youth, to buy tobacco.”