Sacramento City Council approves ban on sale of flavored tobacco products

It will soon be illegal to sell flavored e-cigarette cartridges, menthol cigarettes and other flavored tobacco products in Sacramento’s city limits.

The Sacramento City Council voted 7-1 Tuesday to approve the flavor ban, which will go in to effect Jan. 1.

Councilman Larry Carr voted against the ban.

“I do not believe the only way to restrict access to these products in Sacramento is to completely ban them,” Carr said.

Councilman Allen Warren was absent, but Councilwoman Angelique Ashby said he supports the ban.

Public health advocates applauded the ban, saying e-cigarettes are increasingly getting teens addicted to nicotine as a gateway to cigarettes. Vape shop owners argued the ban will force them to close, and former smokers said the ban will make it much harder to purchase a useful tool they need to quit smoking cigarettes.

The ordinance will not require any of Sacramento’s roughly 383 tobacco retailers to close, said Jose Mendez, the city’s code enforcement manager.

The city will close shops that increase their inventory of flavored tobacco products, stop selling tobacco products for more than 60 days, or fail to renew their licenses, however, Mendez said. If the city closes shops for those reasons, those licenses will not be issued to new shops. No new tobacco retailers will be allowed to open within 1,000 feet of another one.

Although the city will not close existing tobacco shops, several vape shop owners said a flavor ban will cause them to lose so much business they will be forced to close.

Noor Kachhi, owner of Cloud 9 vape shop in Natomas, said the flavor ban will cause his business to lose 85 percent of his business, cause him to go in to bankruptcy, and maybe even lose his home. He has five years left on his lease, with a personal guarantee, he said.

“I stand in front of you today begging for mercy,” Kachhi told the council. “We cannot survive the flavor ban. I humbly urge you all to exempt vape shops from this ban.”

Cloud 9 is one of about 40 vape shops in the city, Councilman Jay Schenirer said.

Ronny Woodsford said he smoked cigarettes for 13 years and is now using vaping to quit.

“In no way am I in support of youth getting a hold of these products ... but is this a flavor issue or a parenting issue?”

E-cigarettes are increasingly popular with local teens, a survey suggests.

Since 2016, e-cigarette use has risen by 50 percent among eleventh-graders in Sacramento City Unified School District, a local survey found, said Joelle Orrock, who works for the Sacramento County Office of Education.

“The schools are needing our support on this issue,” Orrock said.

Many of the teens who vape use the popular Juul e-cigarettes. Juul no longer sells its flavored mango, fruit, creme and cucumber pods in brick and mortar stores, a spokesman said. Flavored pods are still available online to customers over age 21.

Some activists applauded that the ban includes menthol cigarettes, which they said are more popular among black smokers and are cheaper to buy in Sacramento’s minority neighborhoods.

More tobacco retailers are open in lower income sections of the city with more residents of color, city data show, such as along Stockton Boulevard in south Sacramento and Del Paso and Northgate boulevards in north Sacramento.

“When you look at the map, these licenses congregate in communities that are vulnerable and the data’s pretty clear and I think we have to take that seriously,” said Councilman Steve Hansen, one of the leaders in passing the ban, which he said is long overdue.

Black men and women are more likely to die from lung cancer than any other demographic group, according to the American Lung Association.

State lawmakers are also moving forward with a statewide tobacco flavor ban, which could also go in to effect Jan. 1. Yolo County, San Francisco, Oakland and Richmond have enacted similar bans in recent years.

The ban will likely result in the city losing “a couple million dollars” in revenue, according to city staff, Schenirer said.

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Theresa Clift covers Sacramento City Hall. Before joining The Bee in 2018, she worked as a local government reporter for the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, the Daily Press in Virginia and the Wausau Daily Herald in Wisconsin. She grew up in Michigan and graduated from Central Michigan University.