Prop 31
Flavored Tobacco Ban
Referendum on 2020 Law that Would Prohibit Sale of Certain Flavored Tobacco Products

Upholds the flavored tobacco ban.

Vote YES

Jump to SPUR’s Recommendation

What the Measure Would Do

This proposition is a ballot referendum that would uphold Senate Bill (SB) 793, which was passed by the California Legislature and signed by the Governor in 2020 to ban the sale of flavored tobacco such as menthol cigarettes and fruit-flavored vape liquids, with exceptions for hookah tobacco, loose leaf tobacco, and premium cigars. Tobacco retailers would be fined $250 for each sale violating the law. However, implementation, which was due to begin January 1, 2021, has been on hold pending the results of a referendum seeking the law’s repeal.

The Backstory

Tobacco companies design flavored tobacco products to soften the naturally harsh taste of tobacco, making it easier for individuals to start using tobacco products and often leading to nicotine addiction. SB 793 was based on public health concerns that flavored tobacco specifically targets youth and communities of color and aims to get people hooked on harmful tobacco products, which have known health impacts such as lung cancer, coronary heart disease and stroke. Tobacco consumption is the leading cause of preventable death in the United States.[1]

According to the California Legislative Analyst’s Office, better health likely would reduce some health care costs, but the amount of savings is uncertain because better health could lengthen some people’s lives, which could increase health care costs.[2]

Opponents of the flavored tobacco ban gathered signatures for a referendum petition and launched a repeal campaign. This campaign was primarily supported by two tobacco companies, R. J. Reynolds Tobacco Company and Philip Morris USA Inc., which together provided more than $18 million to support the repeal.

California is not the first state to ban flavored tobacco products. Massachusetts instituted a ban on all flavored tobacco products, while New York, New Jersey and Rhode Island banned the sale of flavored cigarettes except for menthol cigarettes. In addition, more than 120 cities and counties in California have adopted local restrictions or bans on all flavored tobacco products including menthol cigarettes.

This referendum requires a simple majority (50% plus one vote) to pass.

Equity Impacts

The original legislation, SB 793, addresses racial equity by banning the sale of flavored tobacco products that are explicitly marketed to the Black community and lead to disproportionate negative health impacts. A 2015 analysis of multiple studies by the National Library of Medicine found that loose menthol tobacco marketing is more prevalent in urban and predominantly Black neighborhoods.[3] In addition, the average annual mortality rate from smoking-related disease is 18% higher for Black Americans than for white Americans.[4] By limiting access to flavored tobacco products marketed to Black communities, California can reduce health disparities.

The flavored tobacco ban would also support some of California’s most vulnerable residents: youth. While selling tobacco products to minors is illegal, one in eight California high schoolers report using tobacco products.[5] A 2015 study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that four out of five youth who use tobacco started with flavored products.[6] A separate study found that when flavored tobacco products are no longer available, youth do not substitute unflavored tobacco for flavored tobacco products.[7] In addition, a 2014 Surgeon General report reaffirms previous findings that virtually all daily cigarette smokers begin before turning 18.[8] By prohibiting access to flavored tobacco, California can reduce the rate of tobacco use in youth, which in turn decreases the likelihood that they will become daily smokers and improves public health outcomes.

SB 793 does not ban the sale of flavored tobacco that is used in hookahs, sold in loose-leaf form or used in premium cigars. Premium cigars specifically are in part defined by costing no less than $12 each and are most likely to be smoked by white individuals and those with higher incomes.[9] This exception means higher income individuals will have more access to flavored tobacco.


  • A ban on flavored tobacco would likely lead to fewer Californians — especially African Americans and youth — developing tobacco-related diseases.
  • The California Legislature originally passed SB 793 with bipartisan support after the traditional process of committee consideration and deliberation. That process is a better venue for considering complex issues — including this one — than the ballot.
  • Implementing SB 793 would simplify flavored tobacco regulation by creating a statewide ban rather than relying on the assortment of local regulations currently governing tobacco sales in cities and counties across the state.


  • Many legal substances like cigarettes have a negative impact on public health, but whether it is the role of government to restrict consumers’ access to them remains up for debate. As experience with alcohol prohibition has shown, a ban is not always an effective way to address the problem.
  • Small businesses, particularly corner stores, would face revenue loss in the face of the flavored tobacco ban and, by extension, loss in tax revenue to the state estimated by the Legislative Analyst’s Office at anywhere from tens of millions of dollars to around $100 million annually.[10]
SPUR's Recommendation

California has a long-standing history of trying to reduce tobacco consumption because of its negative impact on public health. Flavored tobacco products are particularly harmful because they are designed to encourage greater consumption, and many are specifically marketed to youth and to Black communities. In light of this, the California Legislature made a bipartisan decision to ban the sale of these products.


Overall, the positive public health impacts and equity impacts outweigh the concerns about limiting adults’ access to flavored tobacco products or lost revenue for small businesses. For these reasons, SPUR recommends a “Yes” vote on Prop. 31.

Vote YES on Prop 31 - Flavored Tobacco Ban

[1] Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “Tobacco-Related Mortality,” last reviewed April 28, 2020,

[2] Legislative Analyst's Office, "Proposition 31," August 2, 2022,

[3] Joseph G. L. Lee et al., “A Systematic Review of Neighborhood Disparities in Point-of-Sale Tobacco Marketing,” American Journal of Public Health 105, no. 9, September 2015,

[4] UCSF Smoking Cessation Leadership Center, “Race/Ethnicity,”

[5] Tam Vuong, Xueying Zhang, and April Roeseler, California Tobacco Facts and Figures 2019, California Department of Public Health, May 2019,

[6] Bridget K. Ambrose et al., “Flavored Tobacco Product Use Among US Youth Aged 12-17 Years, 2013-2014,” Journal of the American Medical Association 314, no. 17, 2015, pages 1871–73,

[7] Jessica Liu et al., “Youth Tobacco Use -Before and After Flavoured Tobacco Sales Restrictions in Oakland, California and San Francisco, California,” Tobacco Control, March 2022,

[8] U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, The Health Consequences of Smoking–50 Years of Progress: A Report of the Surgeon General, 2014,

[9] Catherine G. Corey et al., “US Adult Cigar Smoking Patterns, Purchasing Behaviors, and Reasons for Use According to Cigar Type: Findings From the Population Assessment of Tobacco and Health (PATH) Study, 2013–2014,” Nicotine & Tobacco Research 20, no. 12, December 2018, pages 1457–66,

[10] See note 2.