Santa Clara County bans flavored tobacco

Santa Clara County became the first jurisdiction in the western United States to adopt a law banning the sale of flavored tobacco products that are often marketed towards young people, a county spokeswoman said Thursday.

The county’s Board of Supervisors on Tuesday approved a law prohibiting general retailers from selling flavored tobacco in unincorporated county areas and businesses will be notified this week, county spokeswoman Gwen Mitchell said.

Retailers selling tobacco will have to comply with the ban within 90 days and thereafter the Department of Environmental Health will conduct annual inspections to make sure the flavored products are no longer being sold except in adults-only tobacco businesses, according to county officials.

Following the 90-day implementation period, the county will launch its Tobacco Violations Reporting Line, at (408) 885-4466, for members of the public to report retailers that are still selling flavored tobacco, Mitchell said.

The intent of the new Tobacco Retailer Ordinance is to restrict the sale to children and teens of products that mask tobacco’s harsh taste in cigars, cigarillos, electronic, hookah, pipe and chewing tobacco with flavors such as apple, chocolate, grape, mint and other selections, Mitchell said.

The ban would not apply to businesses that sell tobacco products to adults only, defined as those generating more than 60 percent of their gross revenues from tobacco and tobacco paraphernalia and that do not allow minors in without a parent or guardian and do not sell alcohol or food for consumption on the premises.

County officials cited a survey of tobacco retailers within the county that found 80 percent were selling the flavored products, including 87 percent of tobacco sellers located near schools.

According to a county staff report issued Tuesday, tobacco use typically begins before age 18, with 12 as the most common age for children in Santa Clara County to have tried their first cigarette, and the goal of the law is to help young people avoid the health and death risks associated with tobacco use.

Supervisor Ken Yeager, in a prepared statement, said the U.S. government in 2009 banned flavored cigarettes because the tobacco industry used them to appeal to young people:

“Since then, a variety of candy-flavored cigars and cigarillos have proliferated in their place. … In the absence of updated national regulations, local governments have to act to protect children from this harmful marketing ploy.”

The county adopted its Tobacco Retailer Permit Ordinance in 2010, requiring all retail outlets selling tobacco in unincorporated areas to obtain an annual county permit to sell tobacco.

The 2010 law banned artificial or natural flavoring, aside from menthol and tobacco itself, but the county delayed the implementation of that portion until it could confer with the U.S. Federal Drug Administration about it and develop a local enforcement plan.

Santa Clara is the first jurisdiction on the west and only the fourth in the nation to enact a ban on flavored tobacco products, according to Mitchell.