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San Diego bans flavored tobacco products beginning Jan. 1

Jacob Aere
A large assortment of fruit flavored e-cigarettes lines a glass covered shelf inside of Fuego Smoke Shop, May 18, 2022.

The San Diego City Council officially passed an ordinance Tuesday to ban the sale of flavored tobacco products — including menthol — in the city, effective Jan. 1, 2023.

The move — spearheaded by Councilwoman Marni von Wilpert — follows similar actions in cities such as Imperial Beach, Encinitas and Solana Beach, along with San Diego County for unincorporated areas. It also comes months before a statewide referendum tackling the issue in November.

Jacob Aere
A lineup of cigarillos in cardboard boxes are propped up on a shelf inside of Fuego Smoke Shop, May 18, 2022.

The council passed the first reading of the issue in April. This second vote makes the ordinance — known as the Stop Adolescent Addiction From E-Cigarettes or SAAFE Act — law.

"I thank my colleagues for standing with me to stop Big Tobacco from addicting an entire new generation of youth on tobacco products by officially approving the SAAFE Act," von Wilpert said. "Flavored tobacco products are intentionally marketed to kids and I am proud that our city is taking action to prevent the sale of these products and protect our youth."

The new law was opposed by some small business owners, like Rami Kajy. He said flavored tobacco accounts for nearly half of his business at Fuego Smoke Shop.

“To be honest, I might as well shut down. Might as well just shut down,” Kajy said. “It’s not going to stop any kid from getting anything they want. If there’s no flavored tobacco, they're going to get their marijuana. There’s already cartridges, people already smoke marijuana cartridges in school, that's never going to stop.”

RELATED: UCSD study shows e-cigarettes inflame organs including the lungs and the brain

During a lengthy public hearing in April, other small business owners said they were law-abiding business owners who had been commended by the San Diego Police Department for their above-board operations.

Several also decried what they called the paternalistic nature of the city council's new law, saying parents should be in charge of how children were raised, not the government.

Jacob Aere
A sign advertising KOOL menthol cigarettes rests against a pole outside of Fuego Smoke Shop, May 18, 2022.

Mt. Hope resident Undra Williams said he smokes menthols and will find a way to get some, regardless of the ban.

“It’s going to increase crime rates because now people need more money,” Williams said. “They can't afford a pack of Camels or Marlboros that cost $15 compared to 7 or 8. That's a big difference when you're in our community.”

RELATED: Supervisors OK Ordinance Intended To Further Curb Youth Tobacco Use

The ordinance does not apply to the sale of shisha, premium cigars or loose-leaf tobacco and unflavored or tobacco-flavored e-cigarettes, as well as FDA-approved cessation devices that will also be exempt from the ban.

Councilwoman Jennifer Campbell said in her 40 years practicing medicine, she had seen the impact on children who lived in homes with smokers.

San Diego bans flavored tobacco products beginning Jan. 1

"We must stop Big Tobacco from aggressively targeting our children and vulnerable communities," she said. "The Stop Adolescent Addiction From E- Cigarettes will help protect our communities from the tobacco industry making life-long customers addicted to nicotine."

According to findings presented in April by von Wilpert's office, in the most recent completed study of the city's tobacco retailers in 2019, 14.7% of retailers sold to an underage police decoy. In a study to come, she said, those numbers have increased to nearly 30%.