The Los Angeles Times reported that, “Elections officials in Inyo County said Monday that at least 70% of the signatures submitted to block a California law, SB793, banning the sale of flavored tobacco are invalid, with dozens of voters saying they never signed the petition.”
This is an important finding that, if duplicated around the state, could prevent the tobacco companies from forcing a referendum on the California’s ban on almost all flavored tobacco products that the governor signed into law last summer. The law passed over vigorous opposition by Big Tobacco.
A referendum is when opponents of a law passed by the legislature collect enough signatures to force a vote on a law passed by the legislature. If the referendum qualifies, i.e., has enough valid signatures, the law is suspended until there is a vote. If the industry referendum qualifies, at the very least it would delay implementation from January 1, 2021 to the November 2022 election, which would allow the tobacco companies to keep selling their flavored products in the meantime.
The health groups have a good record of defeating industry referenda, most recently RJ Reynolds’ effort to overturn San Francisco’s flavored tobacco product ban, but it would be a lot better if the law just went into effect next month without requiring the health groups to to raise millions of dollars to defend the law before the voters.
Inyo is a small (in terms of population) county east of the Sierras, but the high fraction of invalid signatures raises a red flag that warrants careful investigation of all the signatures in every county statewide before the referendum is circulated.