FREMONT — Flavored tobacco products will no longer be sold in Fremont under a new ordinance approved this week.
And, that includes cartridges used in vapes and e-cigarettes to menthol cigarettes and flavored cigarillos.
In an effort to protect the health of kids, the Fremont City Council has adopted a strict tobacco retail license ordinance that not only banned flavored tobacco products but sets minimum prices for cigarettes and cigars.
Under the new pricing rules, a pack of 20 cigarettes or 5 cigars will now cost $8 while the sale of single cigars for less than $5 will be prohibited, city staff said.
The new ordinance requires local retailers who want to sell tobacco products to obtain an annual license from the city, and undergo checks from city code enforcement staff.
“If we can do something here to keep these out of the hands of kids, I’m in favor of it,” Councilman Vinnie Bacon said Wednesday when reached by phone.
“It’s pretty clear that tobacco companies want customers and they want customers that are young and will smoke for many years. And clearly the flavored products are targeted for kids. They like the sweet flavor of the flavored products,” Bacon said.
The city joins about 40 other places in California such as San Francisco, Livermore, and San Leandro, which have enacted similar prohibitions on flavored tobacco products, hoping to stem the tide of climbing youth vaping rates that the Food and Drug Administration has called an epidemic.
And in San Jose, Councilwoman Magdalena Carrasco has recently called for the council there to consider a ban on the sale of e-cigarettes and flavored tobacco products, as well.
From 2017 to 2018, the use of e-cigarettes by high school students, such as the popular Juul, increased 78 percent, from 11.7 percent to 20.8 percent, according to the FDA.
A total of just over 3 million American high school students were using e-cigarettes in 2018, the agency said.
The council voted for the ban over the objections of local retailers, who said the change could cut deeply into the business of convenience or liquor stores, who lean heavily on menthol-flavored tobacco product sales and could shut down dedicated vape shops altogether.
Some, like Sam Randhawa, who owns the Vapor Planes store in Fremont, told the council that the ban could trigger an unsafe underground market.
“Instead of having responsible, licensed business people doing it the right way, you’re putting it into the streets,” Randhawa said.
The new rules will need to be finalized with a second reading at the council’s Oct. 8 meeting and would go into effect 30 days after that.
Until then, retailers can either sell or otherwise get rid of their existing stock of flavored tobacco products, the council said.
Local high school resource police officers, meanwhile, contend that the use of flavored tobacco vapes and e-cigarettes has skyrocketed in recent years because kids like the flavors.
“There are countless number of vaping devices being pulled off the kids at schools,” Sgt. Mike Rodriguez of the Fremont Police Department told the council Tuesday.
“Everything from fruit loops, to cheerios, to cupcakes, to mango, to watermelon, you name the flavor,” Ofc. Reggie Candler, the resource officer at American High School, said of what they find on kids.
In July, the council balked at the idea of the flavored products ban even though it supported the other new guidelines.
But on Tuesday, advocates and supporters of the ban argued heavily in favor of it.
“We aren’t really solving much if the kids can still go and get a flavored Swisher Sweet from the store where they used to be able to get a mango Juul,” said Dr. Sonia Khan, a pediatrician and the vice chair of the city’s human relations commission, on Tuesday.
Dianne Jones, a Fremont school board member who supports the ban, told the council she had hoped the aggressive marketing of tobacco to kids was mostly a thing of the past.
“What we see now is more brazen and insidious than Joe Camel,” she said.
“Does anyone believe that flavors like unicorn poop, razzleberry pop, or Bubble Gang grape ape, were created for me or you? Do we really think these flavors and packagings are meant to appeal to folks in my gray-haired lady demographic?”
Some councilmembers, like Rick Jones and Teresa Keng, however, said they were concerned for some vape shop owners who might be stuck in multiyear leases for their businesses.
Jones said the city should try and find a way to help them “maneuver out” of those agreements if possible, so if their business isn’t viable after the ban, they won’t be “on the hook” for the lease. No decision, however, was made on that issue.
Fremont council votes to ban all flavored tobacco products, including menthol