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Enticing tobacco flavors have been banned

By Imran Shaikh Nov. 3, 2021

Chloe Kim Art

In recent years, nicotine addiction has ravaged youth throughout the state. The sale of flavored tobacco products makes the drug more tempting, as kids are attracted to flavors like strawberry or watermelon. In fact, a report by the Truth Initiative states that youth are almost three times more likely to use flavored tobacco than adults. Even though it is illegal to sell nicotine products to children under 18, many high school students still smoke cigarettes or e-cigarettes by obtaining them illicitly. Therefore, to curb youth nicotine addiction throughout the city, the San Jose City Council unanimously voted to ban the sale of certain tobacco products.

This ordinance will forbid the sale of flavored tobacco products—the most prominent of which are menthol cigarettes and e-juices—but the council did not address the sale of flavored cigars and hookah, a type of water pipe that comes in fruity flavors. Moreover, the new policy banned new tobacco retailers from opening within 1,000 feet of schools, parks, libraries or community centers and within 500 feet of another tobacco retailer. The policy also raised the legal age to buy tobacco products from 18 to 21. Although the plan will make the sale of flavored tobacco illegal, the possession of the product is not a crime. Consequently, people can legally bring them in from other cities.

“The policy should also ban flavored hookah and cigars since they can lead to addiction. If adults want them, they can go out of the city, but youths may see them as an alternative to flavored cigarettes or e-cigarettes,” Junior Joana Zhang said.

Many agree with Zhang, including the Santa Clara County, which enacted comprehensive policies that do not exempt any tobacco products. However, Councilmember Matt Mahan, who supported the passing of this ordinance, explained that smoking hookah at adult-only lounges provides special social and cultural uses. In Persian culture, it is seen as a symbol of status and given to guests to show hospitality and trust.

The focus on combating the usage of e-cigarettes was catalyzed by a 2019 Santa Clara County survey that found that 31.6 percent of the county’s teens have tried an e-cigarette at least once. This study also found that 81.3 percent of teens who regularly use tobacco products use flavored ones, further prompting the passing of this ban.

“Flavored tobacco is used to entice children and teenagers to try smoking. We know that a high number of people who end up addicted to smoking started when they were young. Therefore, we need to do everything we can to minimize access to these harmful products,” Council member David Cohen said.

Council member Cohen addressed how flavored tobacco products can attract teens, leading to early nicotine addiction. Therefore, by banning the sale of these flavors, the council hopes to deter kids from buying tobacco products.

“While this law is helpful, I do not think it will stop nicotine addiction in youth. Prohibiting city businesses from selling does not affect people’s access to other retailers like Amazon,” Sophomore Vishal Makaram said.

Similar to Makaram, Haron Rhamti, an owner of a smoke shop in East San Jose, told The Mercury News that he believes underage people will continue to buy products online. Rhamti is one of many business owners who oppose the ordinance. In a survey conducted by the city, 82 percent of the over 100 businesses that responded were against the bill. Their biggest worry is revenue: owners like Rhamti make 80 percent of their profit from selling flavored tobacco products. Business owners have already suffered consequences from the pandemic, so the prohibition of this major source of income could lead to many businesses’ closure.

Similar bans have been passed in other states, including Massachusetts and New York. San Francisco also approved banning the sale of flavored tobacco products in 2018, and it was fully implemented by 2019. However, the city discovered unanticipated repercussions that many opponents to San Jose’s ordinance attest to: a study from the Yale School of Public Health found that San Francisco high school students’ odds of smoking normal cigarettes doubled after the implementation of the ban. Initially intended to lower the consumption of tobacco products in teens, the law ended up counterproductively increasing it.

Council member Pam Foley, who was the biggest advocate for this ordinance, admits that it is not perfect. But she emphasizes that this is a step in the right direction, praising the city’s preparation to combat the increase in nicotine addiction. The effects of the ban will be examined next year, and the San Jose City Council will decide how to proceed on this matter then.


About the Contributors

Imran Shaikh

Staff Writer

Imran Shaikh is a sophomore at Leland High School and a staff writer for The Charger Account. When he has free time he likes to watch anime, hang out with his friends, and catch up on some much needed sleep.

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