Councilmembers Want to Ban Sale of Menthol Cigarettes in San Jose

First came a ban on smoking in public places; now local lawmakers are targeting a particular style of cigarettes. Seeing that menthol smokes are so popular with the youngsters, especially minorities, several city officials want to support a Food and Drug Administration resolution that proposes banning the sale of menthol cigarettes. The motion brought by councilmembers Kansen Chu, Ash Kalra and Xavier Campos goes before the Rules and Open Government Committee Wednesday.

Since the federal law banned fruity cigarettes and restricted menthol sales in 2009, giving the FDA sway over the regulation, several states and cities have adopted resolutions reinforcing the crackdown. But menthols didn’t get a full-on ban, something lawmakers are pushing for this year. The FDA wants to receive resolutions against menthol sales before June to garner enough municipal support to adopt a federal ban, the city says.

Studies show that flavored tobacco ads target teens, particularly minorities. Since San Jose consists of about 500,000 minority residents, 35 percent of them younger than 25, it’s pretty much Big Tobacco’s target market, the councilmembers argue.

“Tobacco industries purposely market their attractive tobacco products to young adults by adding candy or fruit flavors and designing trendy packaging,” the memo reads. “A 2010 study prepared by the Center for Tobacco Products found that smokers who start with menthol products are more likely to be susceptible of nicotine and tobacco use.”

That same study found that among children aged 12 to 17 who smoke, 44 percent use menthols. Break it down by ethnic groups and you get: 51 percent of Asian and Latino, 79 percent of African-American, 37 percent of white and 71 percent of LGBT kids who prefer cigarettes of the fresh-and-minty variety.

Take a look at menthol cigarette ads and you’ll find most of them target black smokers, the memo says. As a result, about 83 percent of the demographic smokes menthols compared to 24 percent of white smokers.

City officials backing the resolution say that given San Jose’s demographic, it’s best to lead by example.

“As the largest city in Santa Clara County, better regulation and serious consideration to banning menthol, candy and fruit flavored tobacco products is needed to prevent chronic illnesses such as heart disease, cancer, diabetes etc.,” the memo adds.

Other elected leaders supporting a ban: State Sen. Jim Beall, Assembly Speaker pro Tempore Nora Campos, Assemblymember Richard Gordon and Assemblymember Paul Fong.

More from the Rules and Open Government Committee agenda for February 20, 2013:

• Sean Washington, head of Google’s veterans and disabilities outreach, was nominated as private-sector representative for the Silicon Valley Workforce Investment Board. The committee will consider the appointment.

The workforce board is made up of 45 members from various community groups and backgrounds. The advisory body reports to the state Workforce Investment Board, which in turn advises the governor on matters related to job creation and economic development.

• District 10 Councilmember Johnny Khamis wants to donate $1,000 of an HP Pavilion tax to his Kiwanis Club chapter’s scholarship fund. City rules require elected officials to get council approval before they donate public funds to a group of which they’re a member.

• District 9 Councilmember Don Rocha’s asks the committee to approve the annual Cambrian Festival as a City Council-sponsored event, which opens it up for public fundraising and allows it to use district money. The event, a public street fair, takes place in August in and around the Camden Community Center.

David Wall dominated the public record with his correspondence about the homeless camp he’s christened “Camp Chuck Sam!” The vocal ex-city employee also submitted a disparaging missive against the city’s recent decision to waive traffic impact fees for a few major companies looking to expand in north San Jose.

WHAT: Rules and Open Government Committee meeting
WHEN: 2pm Wednesday
WHERE: City Hall, 200 E. Santa Clara St., San Jose
INFO: 408.535.1254

CLARIFICATION: An earlier version of this post stated that San Jose councilmembers Kansen Chu, Ash Kalra and Xavier Campos support a ban on menthol cigarettes. Their memo does not explicitly ask for a ban in San Jose, but suggests the city adopt a resolution supporting the FDA’s goal of banning menthol and flavored tobacco products.

Jennifer Wadsworth is the former news editor for San Jose Inside and Metro Silicon Valley. Follow her on Twitter at @jennwadsworth.


  1. Jennifer:  “Seeing that menthol smokes are so popular with the youngsters, especially minorities, city officials want to ban their sale in San Jose.”

    The problem with this is that everyone in San Jose is a member of minority demographic affinity groups.  You’re going to have to implement a new way to write that lets the old “one majority/many minorities” theme go for local issues.  As the City of San Jose web site reveals from the 2010 census:

    Diverse Asian Americans     31.9%
    Diverse African Americans     3.1%
    Diverse Hispanic Americans   33.5%
    Diverse white Americans     28.0%

    This is happening more and more, and Metro may as well review its style book soon.  We would like our white diversity & nationality included in whatever you decide to call us.  You have no problem describing others in ways that emphasize their diversity or nationality, we want that, too.  And remember, “white” is an adjective, not a noun…it modifies the word “American.”

  2. As long as our legislative community insists on using differences among ethnicities as justification for writing new ordinances, they might as well go ahead and word the ordinances with those differences in mind.
    As a member of the diverse white American community I authorize our city council community to write an ordinance banning the sale of menthol cigarettes to members of the diverse Hispanic American, African American, and Asian American communities.

  3. Uh-oh, the “Nanny State” principle has now moved on to the “Nanny City.”  Government sure as hell has no business legislating anything related to a victimless crime.  Certainly, the user of cigarettes is harming his/her own health but that’s simply not the business of Government.  As an aside, regulating only menthol cigarettes (“slicks” as they were called many years ago)is ridiculous!

  4. Don’t you have to be 18 to buy tobacco?  Isn’t worrying what people under 18 are smoking the same as saying that the age restrictions aren’t working?

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