California's voters can save the state from prohibitive legislators – Orange County Register

Thanks to a tremendous effort to collect signatures last year amid the COVID-19 pandemic, California voters will have the final say on whether or not the state will usher in a new era of prohibition. Last year the legislature passed a law banning flavored tobacco products. However, after enough signatures to qualify for the 2022 statewide vote, the decision to ban flavored tobacco products will be left to California voters.

In the 2022 election, Californians will decide whether to ban the sale of almost all flavored tobacco products, including menthol cigarettes, flavored e-cigarettes, and smokeless tobacco. The legislature has exempted expensive cigars, water pipes and pipe tobacco products from the ban.

California would not be the first state to introduce such a ban. In June 2020, Massachusetts became the first state to ban flavored tobacco. At the time, proponents of the ban claimed that tobacco use would decrease and fears of black markets and cross-border sales were overcome. With fewer smokers, Massachusetts would also save money by lowering healthcare costs, they argued.

But reality soon dispelled that optimism. From the June 2020 ban implementation to November 2020, Massachusetts cigarette excise taxes fell 24 percent. However, cigarette sales in neighboring Rhode Island and New Hampshire rose 18 percent and 29.7 percent, respectively, compared to the same period last year.

Massachusetts lost $ 62 million in cigarette excise tax revenue in the first five months of its ban. And those numbers underestimate the overall losses in Massachusetts as they don't explain the state's lost sales of flavored e-cigarettes, smokeless tobacco, or cigars. According to the Tax Foundation, a ban could cost Massachusetts $ 120 million in fiscal 2020-2021.

In contrast, New Hampshire cigarette sales increased 46 percent and menthol sales increased 90 percent. Total Rhode Island cigarette sales increased 20 percent and menthol cigarette sales increased 29 percent. Thanks in large part to the ban next door, Rhode Island and New Hampshire received cigarette taxes of $ 14 million and $ 28.5 million, respectively.

While sales of flavored products declined in Massachusetts, sales of traditional, unflavoured cigarettes rose 15 percent. So when you combine the increased use of unflavoured cigarettes in Massachusetts with soaring cigarette sales in neighboring Rhode Island and New Hampshire, it seems that cigarette sales in the area as a whole actually increased after the Massachusetts ban went into effect.

Not only are these findings important because they show the immediate economic impact of the state ban, but the health benefits are likely to be severely limited due to the cross-border trade and substitution of non-menthol cigarettes. In other words, the loss of tax revenue is not offset by lower healthcare costs.

Proponents of the ban on flavored cigarettes also hope the ban will drastically reduce the smoking rate of black Americans. You rightly state that a disproportionate number of black smokers choose menthol products – around 85 percent of black smokers use menthol. While black smokers are more likely to use menthol products and white smokers are more likely to use non-menthol products, smoking rates are lower among young blacks than among white adolescents. In 2017, the most recent year for which we have complete data, the teenage smoking rate among whites in California was 5.9 percent, while the smoking rate among blacks was significantly lower at just 1.6 percent.

Menthol and non-menthol cigarettes are equally dangerous, so one has to wonder why policymakers have targeted and banned the product preferred by black smokers while the cigarettes used by whites can stay on the shelves. When Congress debated a similar ban on taste last year, the American Civil Liberties Union and other civil rights groups also warned that the ban on flavored tobacco products would hit disproportionately large numbers of people of color, trigger unnecessary criminal penalties, and make criminalization take precedence over public health and concern Mitigation would have. You're right.

California was at the forefront of realizing that the war on drugs was a moral and empirical failure. Yet lawmakers have zealously committed to a new war on flavored tobacco. Fortunately, the voters have the final say.

Guy Bentley is the director of consumer freedom policy at the Reason Foundation.