Smoke ‘em while you got ‘em. Prop 31 looks likely to pass


Proposition 31 proponents include the California Teachers Association. Tobacco manufacturers are against it. Photo by Giuliana Mayo/KCRW.

Proposition 31, one of seven initiatives on the California midterms ballot, would ban the sale of most flavored tobacco products. If passed, it would allow a ban that already passed in the state legislature in 2020 to go into effect. That law was contested and has been on hold until after this month’s vote. Stores that violate the ban and sell flavored tobacco would face a $250 fine per transaction.

Who is in favor?

Advocates of the ban say that it would protect children and people of color.

They also argue that vapes with flavored tobacco appeals to candy-loving teens, acting as a gateway to years of nicotine addiction. 

Nineteen-year-old Efren Franco of Santa Clarita is one example. He says he started vaping flavored tobacco at 13. “There were days where I was using money that I needed for lunch or to get around, on nicotine.” 

Franco says that despite existing bans on tobacco sales to youth, he managed to procure it “either through friends or through stores that will sell to minors.”

Menthol cigarettes form another large segment of the flavored tobacco market, often marketed to communities of color. According to the journal Tobacco Control, 85% of Black people who smoke choose menthol cigarettes.

“We know that over the last 50-60 years, the tobacco industry has predatorily marketed these products in our community by giving them away, having greater promotions, [or through] more advertising,” says Dr. Philip Gardiner, co-chair of the African American Tobacco Control Leadership Council. “Most problematic – and we have data on this coast to coast – menthol cigarettes are cheaper in the Black community compared to other communities.”

He has advocated for the legislation, as well as a federal ban on menthol cigarettes.

Who’s opposed?

Phillip Morris and RJ Reynolds are among the financial sponsors of the “No on Prop 31” campaign. They argue that a prohibition on flavored tobacco wouldn’t prevent underage smoking, since there are already laws against it. The campaign also argues the state will lose hundreds of millions of tax dollars without those sales. 

Other opponents not affiliated with the campaign have suggested that a higher tax makes more sense than an outright ban.