This report has been updated, to reflect the Sept.28 City Council vote.
San Jose is the biggest city in California to ban flavored tobacco city-wide in an effort to reduce access to tobacco and curb teen tobacco addiction.
The city council voted unanimously Tuesday to adopt two separate ordinances designed to reach that goal.
The first ordinance bans the sale of flavored tobacco in cigarettes and vapes, including menthol products, because it is widely used among youth who smoke.
It establishes proximity limits that prohibit new tobacco retailers from opening a store within 500 feet of another tobacco retailer and within 1,000 feet of a school, park, community center or library.
The second ordinance expands a ban on any kind of smoking, including cigarettes, cigars, e-cigarettes and cannabis products, in multi-family housing complexes within San Jose.
Previous city regulations only prohibited smoking in publicly accessible and common areas of multi-family housing. The new ordinance prohibits indoor smoking at housing sites with three or more units. Motels, hotels, duplexes and condominiums would be exempt.
Local leaders like Mayor Sam Liccardo and city councilmembers had gathered on Monday to rally behind the ordinances - emphasizing these bans were aimed to protect San Jose's youth.
“We are advocating here for the kids,” Councilmember Pam Foley said. “Teens are particularly susceptible to big tobacco advertising with nearly 90 percent of smokers starting by age 18 and four out of five kids who have used tobacco started with the flavored products.”
Foley said Tuesday's vote would be the culmination of years of work and advocacy, even before her time in city council. In 2019, she introduced the ban of flavored tobacco produces as a priority item for the city and councilmembers agreed.
“I interviewed a dozen high school teens in a focus group on their use of vaping,” Foley said. “I was really frankly alarmed to learn how easy it was for these kids to gain access to not only flavored tobacco, but these devices, even though it's illegal for them to own it.”
In fact, a 2019 study by Santa Clara County's health department found that one in every three teens in the county reported they have used an e-cigarette at least once.
Among current teen tobacco users, 82.3 percent reported using a flavored product.
More than 2 in 5 teens (45.4 percent) reported purchasing their own e-cigarettes, with over a quarter of this group reporting that they bought them directly from a local store, county data revealed.
“These are kiddos who are developing their young minds and bodies and have no business risking their health while vaping,"” said Councilmember Magdalena Carrasco. "”All these e-cigarette flavors may taste like candy but it's poison to our children.”
Carrasco also emphasized that flavored tobacco products disproportionately impact Black and Latino youth, as many tobacco retailers are concentrated within East San Jose, a sentiment echoed by Vice Mayor Chappie Jones and NAACP President Bob Nunez.
San Jose isn't the first municipality to enact such a ban. More than 100 cities across the state including San Francisco and Oakland and about half the cities in Santa Clara County already have bans in place.
California Governor Gavin Newsom also signed a bill last year to prohibit the sale of most flavored tobacco products. However, the tobacco industry quickly responded with a referendum campaign which places a hold on the ban until voters decide whether to enact it in 2022.
However, some studies indicate that such bans may not be as effective as proponents hope.
A 2021 study conducted by Yale School of Public Health, and posted in JAMA Pediatrics, found that the rate of high schoolers smoking conventional cigarettes doubled in San Francisco after they prohibited the sale of flavored tobacco products in 2018.
Data from a 2019 Youth Risk Behavior Survey also found that 16 percent of San Francisco high school students had used a vapor product on at least one occasion in 2019 - a 125 percent increase from 2017 when 7.1 percent of San Francisco high school students reported using an e-cigarette.
Still, the new San Jose ordinance had a lot of support in San Jose. Proponents include Santa Clara County Health Officer Dr. Sara Cody, the county's office of education, and several other labor, social and racial justice and medical groups in the city.
The ordinance aligns with state and federal regulations so retailers that sell hookah or hookah related products would be exempt from the ban. That keeps the city's 13 hookah lounges safe for now, but more than 650 San Jose tobacco retailers will have to make the shift.
A ban of flavored tobacco products is a move 80 percent of tobacco retailers predictably oppose, a recent study by the city found.
However, a survey of nearly 600 registered voters in San Jose, found 73 percent support a proposal that would prohibit the sale of flavored tobacco in the city and more than three in five do so "strongly."
The ordinance gives retailers a six-month grace period to remove prohibited products from their shelves. So, by June 30, 2022, San Joseans wishing to purchase flavored tobacco products may have to look outside of city limits to do so.
Enforcement of the ban targets retailers, rather than those who possess banned products.
The city will be setting fine amounts and intends to conduct a minimum of one annual compliance check per year.
Jana Kadah is a reporter with Bay City News.