A petition to overturn Goleta's ban on flavored tobacco is gathering signatures, but the signature-gatherers have been caught lying in order to get signatures. | Credit: TBEC Review/WikiCommons

Proponents of Goleta’s new ban on selling flavored tobacco — intended to protect teens from nicotine addiction — are concerned about a petition circulating to overturn the ban. It’s not so much the petition that worries them, but the tactic signature-gatherers have taken, which is to reverse the intent of the petition and state it is to ban flavored tobacco.

Goleta councilmembers themselves have been approached by petition signature-gatherers, said Mayor Paula Perotte at the council’s Tuesday meeting, who are working shopping centers and going door to door. Councilmember James Kyriaco recounted his experience on Sunday, getting a knock on the door from a person claiming to be with the County of Santa Barbara, which in actuality has nothing to do with the petition. The individual said the questions were for a survey and the collection of petition responses.

“I felt lied to,” Kyriaco said, adding, “Signature-gatherers cannot intentionally lie about the petition in order to obtain signatures.” Such fraud is a misdemeanor, indicated Deputy City Attorney Winnie Cai, who referenced Election Code 18600. A second person approached Kyriaco and under questioning said she represented LetTheVotersDecide.com. The company’s website states they “manage campaigns and get initiatives on the ballot,” and the company did not return a call asking for comment.

For petition-signers who did not mean to sign this petition, they can withdraw their signature if they submit a written statement to the city clerk, said Deborah Lopez, who is the city clerk for Goleta. Importantly, such requests must be submitted before the petition is filed; must give the name, address, and signature as on the individual’s voter registration; and should reference the petition. The petition deadline is Monday, November 8, but the petitioners could file before that if they gain the roughly 2,000 signatures necessary. The city clerk’s office is at Goleta City Hall, 130 Cremona Drive, Suite B.

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Petition organizer Norris Halak of the Hollister Smoke Shop cordially stated he wished to make no comment on the matter, and George Farah of Goleta Smoke Shop simply let his fax machine pick up after asking a reporter to call back later.

Goleta’s City Council set the ban in motion at its September 21 meeting, at which the three smoke-shop owners in the city protested the serious damage a ban would have on their bottom line. Other speakers stated a ban discriminated against the Middle Eastern hookah tradition, which includes tobacco flavored with molasses or spice, while another member of the public stated traditional hookah tobacco is unflavored.

The underlying issue for the ban was that teenage smokers enjoy vapes flavored to taste like candy and marketed in packaging that resembles candy wrappers. Young people vape them despite being under the age to be legally able to buy them.

Among the citizens raising the alarm about the false signature-gathering tactics were members of the county’s anti-tobacco coalition CEASE, the Coalition Engaged in a Smokefree Effort. Member Renata Valladares, the county’s Tobacco Prevention & Cannabis Education program coordinator, noted that delay was a well-used tactic by the tobacco industry. The petition would give flavored vapes another year of sales in Goleta, “the number one tobacco product consumed by teenagers,” she said. “That’s a long time in the life of a high school student.”

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