Flavored tobacco including menthol cigarettes would be banned in North Fair Oaks

Flavored tobacco displayed in a store.

Daily Post staff report

The sale of flavored tobacco products including menthol cigarettes would be illegal in North Fair Oaks and other unincorporated areas of San Mateo County under a proposal that will be voted on by the Board of Supervisors Tuesday (Jan. 23).

The purpose of the ban is to curtail youth smoking even though it has been decreasing in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Anyone under 21 is prohibited from buying tobacco products and merchants appear to be strict about enforcing that law. Police occasionally do sting operations using underage decoys who go into stores attempting to buy cigarettes.

Last Monday (Jan. 15), a man who didn’t have an ID attempted to buy cigarettes at the One Stop Supermarket located at 1493 E. Bayshore Road in East Palo Alto. The clerk refused the sale, and the man knocked over items in the store and walked to his car, police said. Then the man brandished a gun before driving away, according to police.

Still, the county supervisors are concerned that flavored cigarettes — which are seen as a gateway to regular cigarettes — might fall into the hands of youth.

A portion of the proposed ordinance reads, “Flavored tobacco products promote youth initiation of tobacco use and help young occasional smokers to become daily smokers by reducing or masking the natural harshness and taste of tobacco smoke and thereby increasing the appeal of tobacco products.”

“As tobacco companies well know, menthol in particular cools and numbs the throat to reduce throat irritation and makes the smoke feel smoother, making menthol cigarettes an appealing option for youth who are initiating tobacco use,” the ordinance says.

The ordinance says that every day about 2,500 children in the U.S. try their first cigarette, and 400 become regular smokers. The ordinance cites a survey saying that 81% of youth report the first cigarette they tried was flavored.

The ordinance doesn’t mention that the CDC has found that from 2011 to 2016, cigarette smoking has declined among middle and high school students. The CDC says that eight of every 100 high school students (8%) reported in 2016 that they smoked cigarettes in the past 30 days — a decrease from 15.8% in 2011.

In addition to flavored tobacco products, the ordinance does away with menthol cigarettes. The ordinance says, “Certain minority groups also disproportionately use flavored tobacco products, including menthol cigarettes.” They include blacks, Latinos, Pacific Islanders, American Indians, Alaska Natives and people who identify as LGBT. “The disproportionate use of menthol cigarettes among targeted groups, especially the extremely high use among African-Americans, is troubling because of the long-term adverse health impacts on those populations,” the ordinance says.

The ban, which was introduced by Supervisors Carole Groom of San Mateo and David Canepa of Daly City, won’t apply to stores in any cities, just unincorporated areas, such as North Fair Oaks, the area between Atherton and Redwood City. But Canepa said the idea is that cities in the county might follow the county’s lead and impose such a ban too.

The first reading of the ordinance is Tuesday. If approved, it would go into effect on July 1.