Strains & products

California just banned flavored vapes, Swishers, Backwoods

Published on December 23, 2022
A picture of a woman rolling a blunt. Flavors blunt wraps are in the FDA crosshairs. (Adrienne Allen/Leafly)
Flavors blunt wraps are in the crosshairs of state and federal regulations. (Adrienne Allen / Leafly)

This week, California stores had to stop selling flavored vape, e-cig, and tobacco products, including some Swisher Sweet and Backwoods items.

In 2020, California voters approved Prop 31, which prohibits retailers and vending machines from selling menthol cigarettes, grape Backwoods, and most Swisher Sweets products across the state. The new law took effect on Wednesday, and the Federal Drug Administration (FDA) is considering a similar national ban on such products. The FDA is currently reviewing public comments on the ban.

The California ban does not place restrictions on the consumption of these tobacco products, so customers can still seek them out from wholesale providers. Advocates of the ban want to remove these potentially harmful products from retail shelves. They claim underage and minority buyers could face increased cancer risk and addiction from regular use.

Dozens of California cities and counties already opted to ban these products back in 2018. Massachusetts was the first state to enact a flavored tobacco ban in 2020. Researchers are looking into the impact of the Massachusetts ban.

How will California enforce its flavored tobacco ban?

(YouTube / Jay Smoke)

Retailers who break the new rules will face $250 fines for each violation. The law includes exceptions for hookah, pipe and loose-leaf tobacco and high-dollar cigars.

Clerks who sell these products should not face criminal charges, according to lawmakers, but owners and decision makers in the business could face further consequences at their local prosecutors’ discretion.

“Yesterday was the last day, but I still have more,” said the clerk at a smoke shop in Stockton, when Leafly asked how he will adjust. He said, “I’m selling the last boxes for $10 a piece,”— a huge discount that should quickly free his shelves of flavored blunts before regulators knock.

Which tobacco products are banned from California shelves?

Cigar leaves used for smoking cannabis flower.(Backwoods)
Most Backwoods flavors will remain on shelves, but fruity selections like grape are no longer for sale in California smoke shops.(Backwoods)

Here’s how California law defines flavored tobacco products: “(A product that) has a flavor, apart from the regular tobacco flavor. Flavors could include fruit, mint, menthol, honey, chocolate, and vanilla, for example.”

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Flavored cigarettes, e-cigarettes, or vapes, including those flavored with menthol are now prohibited from California smoke shops, gas stations, and other retail stores. Many Swisher Sweet cigarillo varieties are included in the ban, along with grape-flavored Backwoods.

Some non-flavored cigars and loose-leaf tobacco are not included in the ban. Sales of gums or gummies that contain nicotine, which are not approved by the FDA, are also prohibited.

Here’s what Californians are saying about the tobacco ban

With 20% of active cannabis smokers (past 30–day use) preferring blunts to any other consumption method, this is a big deal for many cannabis users. Some smoke shops are even worried they could go out of business, since they rely on these high-volume products to fly off of shelves.

“I feel a lot of other stores are going to shut down for the next six months to a year,” said Carlo Sharmoug, who’s owned Ziggy’s Smoke Shop in Stockton, CA, for 14 years and said he’s never sold to a minor in an interview with local KXTV’s ABC10.

Swisher Sweets on a computer
Swisher Sweets lovers can still get original and natural tobacco flavors. But many of the fruity packs will no longer be available in California.(danielfsnink/iStock)

Smoke shops like Ziggy’s claim California will lose out on millions in tax revenue because of the ban, and insist products will now just be sold on the illicit market. But advocates like Lindsey Freitas, of The Campaign for Tobacco-free Kids, have said it’s best to take these products off the market.

“We’re hugely thrilled to finally see this go into effect,” Freitas told the local news after the ban started on Wednesday. As for customers, they aren’t quite as thrilled.

“This flavored Tobacco ban won’t stop anything,” Dominic Knockum, an Oakland native, told Leafly Thursday. “Kids are still gonna find ways to get their hands on that stuff if they really want it,” Knockum said, “and it definitely won’t discourage them from smoking or getting high… The ban is more annoying than anything else.”

Does flavored tobacco target kids?

Freitas says tobacco use among California teens was declining, until e-cigarettes hit the scene. “They started being sold in flavors like grape and cherry and gummy bear. And all of a sudden, we saw our youth tobacco rates increasing again,” Freitas told the local news.

A study by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that this year, more than 2.5 million youth reported e-cigarette use. Nearly 85% of those surveyed used flavored e-cigarettes.

Are blunts unhealthy for weed smokers?

Almost half of flavored blunt wraps surveyed failed lab testing. (Ranta Images, ericb007, Planet Flem/iStock)
Almost half of flavored blunt wraps failed lab testing in a 2020 study. (Ranta Images, ericb007, Planet Flem/iStock)

A 2020 study found that one third of weed consumers smoke blunts, while almost two-thirds of Black weed consumers smoke blunts. A separate study of blunt wrap brand Backwoods social media content found that on Instagram, half of #backwoods posts were cannabis-related.

In 2020, SC Labs found that nearly one in ten rolling papers (13) failed California’s stringent standards for legal cannabis product purity: including 8 of 20 types of blunt wraps. In comparison, 3 cellulose-based rolling papers tested passed, along with all other rolling papers and cones.

Rap stars Wiz Khalifa and Curren$y have spoken out against blunts over the years, insisting joints are healthier. Studies have concluded that tobacco users face increased cancer risk (6.7-fold compared to never-smokers). Cannabis-only consumers, by contrast, show little increased cancer risk (1.2-fold). Local advocates say the ban will save lives.

“For far too long, certain populations, including African Americans, have been targeted and disproportionately impacted by tobacco use. Despite the tremendous progress we’ve made in getting people to stop smoking over the past 55 years, that progress hasn’t been experienced by everyone equally.”

Mitch Zeller, director of the FDA’s Center for Tobacco Products

What are healthier alternatives to flavored vape and blunt products?

Fronto leaf blunts are sturdy, natural, and easy to customize to your desired size. (Primo)
Some blunt smokers prefer to roll their cannabis in the fronto leaf, which originates in the Caribbean. Fronto blunts are sturdy, natural, and easy to customize to your desired size. (Primo)

There are a variety of concentrates and THC-infused snacks and edibles available for those who wish to enjoy the cannabis plant without assuming the health risks associated with smoking.

For fans of flavored tobacco blunts seeking healthier options, Leafly broke down the best blunt wraps for 2023, including natural leaf providers like Brothers Broadleaf, King Fronto, and the Grabba Leaf brand. Check out the full list here.

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Dan Reagans and Calvin Stovall
Dan Reagans and Calvin Stovall
Dan Reagans is a veteran journalist now living in Los Angeles. The Harlem native has covered culture and media for over a decade. Calvin Stovall is Leafly's East Coast Editor.
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