California will delay its ban on flavored tobacco products after opponents led by tobacco companies said they filed enough signatures to put the law to a statewide vote.
The law was passed this August and was set to go into effect on Jan. 1, 2021. The law would not make it a crime for people to possess flavored tobacco products, but bans retailers from selling them. Violators would face a $250 fine. The law would exempt loose leaf tobacco, premium cigars and shisha tobacco used in hookah.
The offices of Secretary of State Alex Padilla and state Attorney General Xavier Becerra won’t enforce the law until county clerks have enough time to verify that there are at least 623,000 valid signatures.
Inyo County’s top elections official, Kammi Foote, said she was referring the petition there to the county district attorney because her office found a high level of signatures that do not match county records.
The California Coalition for Fairness, backed by R.J Reynolds Tobacco Co. and Philip Morris USA, said in a statement that it takes the allegations seriously but turned in more than 1 million signatures, far more than enough to qualify for the ballot.
If enough signatures are valid, the measure will go before voters in the next statewide general election or special statewide election, likely in November 2022. If not, the law will take effect when the secretary of state certifies that the signature drive fell short.
The California Coalition for Fairness said it expects the referendum to be through the verification process by the end of January. The group said the ban would harm thousands of retailers who are already struggling due to the pandemic.
“More than 1 million California voters signed the petition to place the measure on the ballot, and this stipulation honors their rights,” the group said in a statement.
Secretary of State Alex Padilla notified county officials that they should start verifying the signatures on Dec. 7. In a court filing two days later, he and Attorney General Xavier Becerra agreed to delay the law’s effective date.