Phoenix Could Consider Flavored Tobacco Ban

Published: Wednesday, October 14, 2020 - 3:44pm

Phoenix is taking a first step toward a potential ban on flavored tobacco products. And several retailers want to make sure their voices are heard.

During Wednesday’s public safety subcommittee, more than 90 people requested to speak. Word had spread throughout among retailers, educators and health care advocates that the four City Council members on the committee would discuss vaping laws. 

Vaping, also known as e-cigarettes, provides an electronic delivery system for tobacco. Some people want Phoenix to ban all flavored tobacco products often used to vape in hopes of preventing a generation of young people from getting hooked. 

Alexa Wohrman, community advocacy advisor with the American Heart Association Greater Phoenix Division, told subcommittee members the industry considered them "starter products,"

“Fruit, mint, menthol and candy flavors make tobacco products more attractive to kids because they mask the harsh taste of tobacco and make these products seem harmless,” she said.

But smoke shop owner Bob Roberts says a total ban on people over 21 would cut his business nearly 40%.

“Because a variety of products are considered flavored tobacco,” he said. “In addition, we’ll lose sales of other products purchased by these customers.” 

Several cigar rollers, hookah lounge operators and retailers suggested their products be exempt from any future ban. A cigar shop owner said his products are not geared toward young people, while several others spoke of the cultural significance of hookahs.

A handful of business owners suggested the city look at regulating the electronic devices used to vape rather than the liquids which they say are easy for people to make with items they can buy online or find at home.

At least two high school students and one Arizona university student spoke in support of a ban on all flavored tobacco products. 

A speaker who identified as a sophomore at Paradise Valley High School said, “Vaping is not the exception, it is the rule” at his school, while a woman who identified as an ASU nursing student said it took two years for her to beat vaping.

“I don’t want other kids and other young adults like my sister and my brother to struggle the way I did, and I’m lucky I had a support system that helped me get off the terrible, terrible addiction I had,” she said. 

Some people expressed the opinion that bans don’t work and can sometimes prove harmful. For example, some people mentioned Prohibition and at least two others mentioned the 2014 case of Eric Garner, the unarmed Black man who died while police used a prohibited chokehold while trying to arrest him for selling loose cigarettes. 

John Dixon, who identified as former president of the National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives and a former police chief, told the subcommittee: “The police don’t need one more tactic to stop people of color, especially at a time when police reform is so important across the country. Police have enough work to do without adding this unfunded mandate. Address this problem through treatment and education, not with intimidation and harassment.”

Subcommittee Chair Michael Nowakowski said he asked for the topic to be discussed because he’d heard concerns from many educators, parents and others who work with young people. He  asked city staff to research best practices in other cities and explore community meetings to address ways to stop young people from vaping.

Meanwhile, a citizen petition organized by roughly 30 groups was submitted to the city. It calls for a ban on flavored tobacco products. Based on the city’s charter, the council must act upon the petition within 15 days.