The California Coalition for Fairness has turned in more than 1 million signatures seeking to qualify a referendum for the November 2022 ballot aimed at overturning a law banning the retail sale of flavored tobacco products in California, reports The Los Angeles Times.
If the Secretary of State’s office determines there is a sufficient number of signatures to qualify the referendum, the new law, which was scheduled to take effect Jan. 1, would be suspended until the voters act on the ballot measure in November 2022.
Opponents needed to collect the signatures of 623,312 registered voters to quality the referendum.
The coalition has received more than $21 million from Philip Morris USA, U.S. Smokeless Tobacco Co., and R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co., among others.
Health advocates criticized the initiative.
“We know Big Tobacco has hidden behind smoke and lies for years to hook generations of young people on deadly tobacco products, and this referendum is just one more tactic to continue the status quo,” said Lindsey Freitas, advocacy director for Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, in a statement. “If this referendum qualifies for the ballot, we’re confident that California voters will reject Big Tobacco’s desperate attempt to keep hooking our kids for a profit. But the delay will be costly and deadly.”
Governor Gavin Newsom, who signed the new law in August, denounced the referendum effort when it launched.
“This is Big Tobacco’s latest attempt to profit at the expense of our kids’ health,” Newsom said at the time. “California will continue to fight back and protect children from Big Tobacco.”
The law that Newsom signed would ban the retail sale of flavored tobacco products including menthol and fruit flavors, as well as those used in electronic cigarettes.
In addition to supporting the referendum, the tobacco industry has filed a federal lawsuit against the state, seeking an injunction to block the new law, arguing it is “an overbroad reaction to legitimate public-health concerns about youth use of tobacco products.”
A court hearing on the lawsuit is scheduled for Dec. 10.