Prohibition not the answer

Instead of banning products to protect kids, codify penalties for retailers that sell to them

Last month, the Chico City Council directed the municipal attorney to draft an ordinance that bans the sale of flavored tobacco products, including menthol cigarettes and vaping cartridges for e-cigarettes. On Tuesday (Jan. 7), the Oroville City Council moved forward with its own ban. At issue is the increase in vaping among American youths. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 27.5 percent of high school students and 10.5 percent of middle-schoolers are now vaping.

Prohibition advocates argue that flavored tobacco products attract children. Makes sense to pretty much anyone who has walked down the cereal aisle of a typical grocery store—where cartoon mascots lure kids to magically delicious, sugar-drenched breakfast fare. Cue the warnings about diabetes.

Much work has been done to educate young people about the dangers of nicotine, which is proven to harm brain development, and we certainly don’t want to see another generation become addicted to that harmful drug. Thing is, per state law, tobacco products are already off limits to kids. In fact, back in June 2018, California became the second state in the nation to raise the minimum purchasing age to 21.

As with our long-held views on cannabis consumption, the CN&R doesn’t believe the government should tell adults what they can and can’t put in their bodies. Plus, as history has informed, prohibition simply doesn’t work. People who want flavored tobacco products will find a way to get them—whether they turn to online sales, to neighboring towns or to a black market that develops with sketchy products as a result of the crackdown. They may also simply start smoking traditional cigarettes, products that contain not only nicotine but also other harmful chemicals.

Moreover, local bans may soon be moot. The federal government last week moved to prohibit certain flavors of so-called vaping “pods” until such time that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration deems them safe. What’s exempted are the sort used in tank-based, refillable vapes. In the meantime, California lawmakers via Senate Bill 793 are working to prohibit all flavored tobacco products, including menthols and those used in the aforementioned tank systems.

At the local level, from our perspective, a better course of action to address youth vaping would be for the cities to enact harsh penalties for local retail outlets that sell tobacco to minors. That would weed out responsible shops from bad actors, help keep products away from kids, and allow adults to have a local option for purchases they’re going to make irrespective of any ban.