Proposal to Ban Sale of Flavored Tobacco Products in WeHo Alarms Retailers

A strawberry Puff Bar (Image from EthanSmokes, YouTube)

A proposal by City Councilmember Lindsey Horvath and Mayor John D’Amico to ban the sale of flavored tobacco products in West Hollywood has alarmed owners of local tobacco shops, one of whom says it will put him out of business.

A statement on the proposed ban notes evidence that tobacco causes a higher risk of cancer, heart disease, and strokes. Nationwide campaigns to educate people as to the risks of tobacco have resulted in a dramatic reduction in the purchase of conventional cigarettes. However, in recent years the tobacco industry has evolved to offer flavored products delivered via vaping devices, which are the primary source of revenue for many tobacco retailers.

“The federal government introduced a plan to temporarily ban many candy- and fruit- flavored e-cigarettes,” the statement notes. But “the ban is limited and does not extend to refillable, tank-based vaping systems purchased in most vape shops.”

“Smokeless tobacco products, including chewing tobacco, snuff, snus and nicotine solutions consumed via electronic smoking devices, such as electronic cigarettes) come in dozens of flavors, such as cotton candy, chocolate, and bubble gum, which mask the harsh taste of tobacco,” the statement says. “Due to tobacco companies’ marketing efforts, youth, communities of color, low- income populations, and members of the LGBTQ communities are significantly more likely to use menthol cigarettes and other flavored tobacco.”

The proposed ordinance would also prohibit the use of tobacco coupons and discounts. Tobacco retailers would not be allowed to honor or redeem a coupon to allow a consumer to purchase a tobacco product for less than the full retail price or sell any tobacco product to a consumer through a discount program.

Mani Merabi, owner of Smoke for Less, the tobacco shop at 8205 Santa Monica Blvd., said the ban would put him out of business and effectively bankrupt him.

“I opened the store when I was 20 years old, over a decade ago,” Merabi told WEHOville. “I’ve now signed a new 15-year lease. I have a personal obligation on my lease. If I close, I lose everything I own.”

Merabi says he has carefully obeyed tobacco sales regulations and has never received a citation for violating them. He stressed that he has never sold tobacco products to anyone under the age of 21.

Merabi said that he and other local tobacco retailers were upset that no one had informed them of the proposed ordinance, which is on the consent agenda for the City Council’s Tuesday meeting. The many items on the consent agenda typically are passed in a single vote by the Council, unless a particular Council member asks that an item be pulled for further discussion.

Arthur Corona and his business partner Derek. Wong, owner of Teagardins at 8532 Santa Monica Blvd. questioned why the city couldn’t consider more carefully regulating the sale of flavored tobacco products if they were a concern. Corona said he saw a dichotomy in the City of West Hollywood’s embrace of the sale of cannabis, a drug illegal under federal law, and the desire of some Council members to ban a legal and regulated product like flavored tobacco. The City of West Hollywood has issued licenses to eight applicants in five categories of cannabis sales and delivery. “If we can regulate something like cannabis, we can regulate tobacco,” he said.

John Piliposyn, owner of Santa Monica Smokes at 8161 Santa Monica Blvd., said the ordinance, if passed also would have a major negative impact on his business.

“It would be terrible,” said Piliposyn, who noted that he has customers coming in every day shopping for Puff Bars. If we are forced to stop, they will start buying cigarettes.”

Puff Bars are similar to the very popular Juul e-cigarette, but are designed for one-time use. They come in many flavors, including O.M.G (Orange, Mango, Guava), but are not subject to the new federal policy regulating flavored e-cigarettes such as Juuls because they are disposable.

The City Council will meet at 6:30 p.m. on Tuesday at the City Council Chambers, 625 N. San Vicente Blvd., south of Santa Monica. Parking is free in the adjacent five-story structure with a ticket validated in the lobby.

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jimmy palmieri
2 years ago

I agree with the banning of coupons. I do not agree with the ban on flavors. Though well intended, marketing methods will simply steer younger folks, LGBT folks, and minorities towards smoking regular cigarettes. One of the most successful geared towards LGBT was Joe camel. His face was “subliminally” shaped into a penis.

Eric Jon Schmidt
2 years ago

This is a public health and safety issue. It is not intended to punish anyone. Any ordinance which protects the health, safety and quality of life of Residents and helps reduce the attraction of tobacco by young people is a good thing. It doesn’t take a genius to know that the “sweet” flavored tobacco products are aimed at young people. As the older smokers die off, the tobacco companies need to replace them. We should be thinking five, ten, twenty years down the road. If we can prevent heart disease, stroke and cancer, we should do it. We can’t be… Read more »

Larry Block
Larry Block
2 years ago

I’m caught off guard wondering the consistency between expanding cannabis and banning a federally regulated and approved product like Camel Crush or Marlboro Menthol cigarettes. A person , 21 or over , is an adult – some choose to smoke cigarettes, others weed, many drink.. never saw a dui checkpoint for flavored tobacco. We are suppose to be adults, please show some respect and to each his own.

2 years ago
Reply to  Larry Block

supposeD to be

2 years ago

It’s a serious drug no matter how you frame it. Legal yes, abuse no.

If the flavors are creating addiction in young adults, then there is an issue but then again I don’t see how banning this will really change things. It just pushes the market underground again.

From someone who used to smoke/vape for many years, my life is 100 percent better drug-free thanks to some great therapy, self-reflection and commitment to health.

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