Cupertino moves to ban flavored tobacco sales

At a City Council hearing this week, Cupertino officials voted unanimously to move toward banning flavored tobacco sales in the West Valley city.

The flavored tobacco ban, similar to those that have passed in cities across our region and the country, was part of larger updates to tobacco ordinances in Cupertino. Other changes would ban new tobacco retailers within 1000 feet of a school or within 500 feet of an existing tobacco retailer, would ban sales at pharmacies and vending machines, and place new limits on storefront signage advertising tobacco sales.

Data from Santa Clara County health officials this summer showed a startlingly high rate of vaping use among local teenagers. More than 31 percent of teens reported having tried e-cigarettes, according to the information.

Community support for the measure

Numerous local residents spoke during the public comment section of the debate, nearly all in favor of the ban on flavored tobacco and the ordinance at large.

One advocate, Leslie Zeller, who worked with city officials to draft the changes, pushed back on the claim that vaping is necessary for helping smokers move to less harmful alternatives.

“This off-ramp for adults is being overtaken by the much larger on-ramp for youth,” Zeller said.

The leader of one local advocacy group, Asian Pacific Islander Coalition for Health Against Tobacco, lauded the council’s actions.

“We’re so pleased to see Cupertino City Council pass such a strong Tobacco Retail Ordinance,” said Rosalyn Moya, Project Director for the group, in a statement following the vote.

Moya continued, “These policies will translate into real protections for the health and safety of our children.”

Impacts, similarities, enforcement

Cupertino has 23 tobacco retailers currently operating within city limits, seven of which are within 1000 feet of a school. Their ability to continue selling tobacco products would not change under the new distance rules.

These changes to Cupertino’s code would mirror those made by several other nearby cities, including Los Gatos, Palo Alto, and Saratoga, as well as in the unincorporated sections of Santa Clara County.

Under the ordinance changes, the ban would go into effect 30 days after enactment, with enforcement by Santa Clara County officials beginning July 1, 2020.

What comes next?

Councilmembers also directed city staff look for ways to make further changes to the ordinance to ban the sale of all vaping products within Cupertino city limits.

Updates on those possible changes will come at a future council meeting and the full City Council will have to vote on passage of the final ordinance at an upcoming meeting, which could be as soon as November 19.