San Jose votes to ban flavored tobacco products, retailers fear business will go up in smoke

Amanda del Castillo Image
Wednesday, September 29, 2021
SJ unanimously votes to ban flavored tobacco products
San Jose councilmembers unanimously voted to ban flavored tobacco products Tuesday.

SAN JOSE, Calif. (KGO) -- San Jose leaders unanimously voted Tuesday to pull flavored tobacco products off shelves across the city.

With colorful packaging and the promise of flavors like mango, berry fusion, fruity Hawaii, and more, smoke shops across the city will soon have to clear out cases of their top-selling flavored tobacco products.

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"While it's a dying industry, it's a very powerful and potent one," Mayor Sam Liccardo said. "And more than ever, they are recognizing that new, young users are the key to maintaining their profits and power."

City councilmembers met Monday, ahead of Tuesday's vote. As an added visual, the city stood next to John Oliver's "Jeff the Diseased Lung" during an afternoon press conference.

The city wants to ban the sale of such products, including flavored e-juices and menthol cigarettes.

The law will also keep new tobacco retailers from setting up shop within 1,000-feet of schools and within 500-feet of an existing tobacco retailer.

Councilmember Pam Foley made her concerns clear.

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"I stand here as a mother. I stand here as someone with tremendous concern for the health of our children, and that is who we are doing all of this for," Foley said. "We are advocating here for the kids."

"Make no mistake," she continued.

While Berryessa Smoke Shop owner Najib Siddiqi agrees that children should not have access to these products, he fears being forced to cut 95% of his tobacco inventory will make it impossible for him, and similar small businesses to stay open.

"I will survive like one month, two months, three months," Siddiqi told ABC7 News. "But after that, if I will see I'm losing money, like continuously, definitely, I will close down my store."

"I will leave," he added.

In anticipation, an employee at Berryessa Smoke Shop said the shop has added merchandise like clothing and other items to compensate.

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Shops said customers will just travel to the next city without a ban to buy their flavored favorites.

"They will drive for it," Siddiqi said. "Either like 10 miles, 20 miles, 30 miles... they will drive for it. And they will go and they will get their product."

Siddiqi has experienced a similar transition with his smoke shop located in the City of Richmond. He said his business was impacted when Richmond's ban took effect.

Now that San Jose councilmembers voted to pass the ban, tobacco retailers will have six months to deplete any newly prohibited products.

A second ordinance to be voted on, on Tuesday would prohibit smoking in any indoor, shared spaces of condo and apartment buildings.

For a closer look at the new rule, click here.