With a 4-1 vote Monday night, West Hollywood’s City Council voted to ban the sale of flavored tobacco products, including menthol cigarettes, but exempted hookah tobacco products. Additionally, the Council banned retailers from accepting tobacco coupons or offering any discount on tobacco products.
The reason behind the flavor ban centered primarily around preventing young people from becoming addicted to tobacco. Young people are said to be drawn to flavored tobacco products with flavors like mint, candy apple, or cotton candy.
During the public comment period, several health advocates urged passage to prevent young people from ever trying tobacco and suffering the health effects of tobacco usage.
Meanwhile, several local smoke shop owners said the flavor ban could put them out of business since flavored tobacco accounts anywhere from 30% to 70% of their business. They pointed out the city already has many businesses that have gone under due to the pandemic and doesn’t need any more.
“During this pandemic, we should not be destroying more businesses,” said one person.
Store owners argued their customers will go to stores in Los Angeles to buy menthol cigarettes like Newport or Kool, thus merely taking business away from them rather than getting people to stop using tobacco.
“If you pass this ordinance, this is going to be a critical hit,” said Chris Teagardin, owner of Teagardin’s Smoke and Vape at 8531 Santa Monica Blvd. “This is not stopping the use of this product . . . all this is doing is taking these people and giving them a walking distance store in an adjacent city to purchase these products then come use them within the city limits of West Hollywood.”
Councilmember Lauren Meister voted against the ban pointing out there will be a voter referendum on a statewide flavored tobacco ban on the ballot in November 2022 and the city should wait to see the results of that.
Councilmember John D’Amico sympathized with potentially putting a store out of business, but said sometimes it is important for the city to take symbolic stands
“I think there’s good reason to let the state work it out. I think there’s also good reason to take a stand. Our city takes stands on things all the time,” said D’Amico. “That’s an important thing, to take a stand, to be on the record and join other municipalities in helping to craft countywide, statewide, national policy.”
D’Amico suggested giving stores time to sell off their flavored tobacco inventory before implementing the ban. The Council agreed and debated starting the ban on Jan. 1, 2022, but Councilmember John Erickson said 11 months was too long. As a result, the Council compromised on Sept. 15, 2021 for the effective date.
However, the Council voted to immediately ban retailers from accepting tobacco coupons or offering discounts on tobacco products.
The Council exempted hookah tobacco products even though all hookah tobacco is flavored. There is no evidence of young people using hookah products and hookah tobacco can’t be rolled into cigarettes or blunts. Councilmember Sepi Shyne also pointed out there are vast cultural traditions around smoking from a hookah water pipe, especially among middle Eastern cultures.