Video shows Bay Area teen offered flavored tobacco product, drawing attention to loophole in CA ban

Stephanie Sierra Image
Friday, March 31, 2023
Video shows Bay Area teen offered flavored tobacco product
The sale of most flavored tobacco products are banned across California, but the I-Team has discovered a loophole. Here's what we found in Sunnyvale.

This story is part of a three-part series by ABC7 I-Team reporter Stephanie Sierra. To learn about our detailed investigation and how to watch, go here.

The sale of most flavored tobacco products is banned across California, but the I-Team is looking into concerns the law may be overlooked.

In December, a statewide ban went into effect suspending the sale of most flavored tobacco products and e-cigarettes across the state. The ban applies to anyone but there's special attention to keep these highly-addictive products away from teens.

CA's Prop 31: What to know about measure upholding flavored tobacco product ban

Yet, the I-Team has found some retailers aren't playing by the rules. We spoke with a store clerk in Sunnyvale.

Sierra: "Do you have any flavored tobacco products?"

Clerk: "No. It's banned."

Sierra: "Really?

Clerk: "We don't sell it period."

According to the state, the legislature didn't grant the California Department of Public Health to be the agency to enforce the ban. Instead, it's up to local jurisdictions.

Public records obtained by the I-Team confirmed this business received notices of violation for selling banned tobacco products in April of 2022 and January of this year.

Christy Gunvalsen is Sunnyvale's Neighborhood Preservation Manager who works with code enforcement.

Sierra: "So you're saying this business hasn't been caught selling flavored tobacco products since?"

Gunvalsen: "They were before, but that stopped."

The I-Team confirmed the business was inspected twice this year, most recently March 4 and was deemed to be in compliance.

Yet, four days before, the I-Team visited the business accompanied by an 18-year-old high school student and saw the young man was offered menthol Juul pods and flavored vape fluid.

"I was about to pay for it, until I was carded," the student told the I-Team. "But, I showed my vaccine card."

The sale didn't take place.

In March, Gunvalsen says she looked through the entire store.

"I looked through, went through the cabinets and the shelves," she said. "They weren't selling any flavors."

But when the I-Team went into the same store four days later, the teen was not only offered a banned product, but we saw banned flavored tobacco products advertised on the walls. The I-Team reached out to the store again for comment. The store clerk denied offering menthol Juul pods and claimed he may have offered non-flavored Juul tobacco, Virginia Tobacco Juul pods.

Last year, the FDA ordered all flavored Juul e-cigarette products be removed from the U.S. market. The store clerk denied any further comment.

Go here to watch ABC7 News I-Team reporter Stephanie Sierra's three-part series on California's flavored tobacco ban for a look at how it's being enforced, if it's working, and the problems that have arisen.

Take a look at more stories and videos by the ABC7 News I-Team.

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