San Francisco Flavor Ban Will Be the First of Many

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    San Francisco voters Tuesday overwhelmingly upheld the city’s ban on flavored tobacco products, including e-liquid. The law will serve as a model for legislation in other cities, with anti-vaping groups already promising bans across the country.

    The law will take effect soon after the election results are certified. It bans all e-liquid flavors except tobacco, and also prohibits sales of menthol cigarettes, and flavored hookah tobacco (shisha), small cigars, blunt wraps, and smokeless tobacco.

    The result was a lopsided 69 to 31 percent win for the Yes side, which was supported by almost every national, state, and local anti-vaping, -smoking, and -tobacco organization. Former New York City mayor, billionaire Republican Michael Bloomberg, contributed $1.8 million of his own money to the effort, which was disingenuously called SF Kids vs Big Tobacco.

    The Yes campaign portrayed the ballot measure as a good vs evil proposition, tying vaping to smoking, and even instructing its canvassers to avoid the word “ban” when speaking with voters. They called flavored e-liquid “candy tobacco,” and lied outright about the vaping industry being an arm of the hated tobacco companies.

    The No On Prop E campaign was bankrolled by tobacco giant RJ Reynolds, which stands to lose millions now that its Newport and other menthol cigarette brands will be banned in the state’s fourth largest city. The cigarette manufacturer was joined in the fight against the ban by vaping and harm reduction advocates, and local business owners. The law will hit small Arab- and Asian-owned stores the hardest.

    Convenience stores count on cigarette sales, and menthol cigarettes are especially popular among African-American smokers. Many customers will go elsewhere to buy groceries, candy, and snacks if their local c-store no longer sells the cigarettes they want.

    Most chilling to vapor industry and consumer advocates is the promise by proponents that the flavor ban will be replicated across the country. Not Blowing Smoke has already fought multiple flavor bans in the San Francisco Bay Area, with more coming soon. And flavor fever is spreading beyond California.There are current proposals to ban e-liquid flavors in Chicago and New York state too. As with Tobacco 21 legislation and indoor smoking bans, most non-smokers are ignorant of the facts, and will support any law that’s billed as being “anti-Big Tobacco.”

    “The consequences of the Prop E debate will extend far beyond San Francisco,” wrote Guy Bentley in the Washington Examiner before the election. “If it passes, anti-e-cigarette activists will be validated in their belief that so long as you proclaim your concern is for children you are justified in distorting the facts in whatever way you see fit. If it fails, Big Tobacco will get the blame and the crusade against flavored e-cigarettes will continue.”

    “We believe the success of Proposition E will encourage other cities to follow suit and end the sale of candy-flavored tobacco before nicotine addiction claims a new generation of young people,” American Heart Association spokesperson Melissa Welch told the New York Times.

    “Proposition E has nationwide implications,” said an American Lung Association press release. “San Francisco is the largest city to pass what is now one of the strongest such policies in the nation, allowing others to follow its lead. The American Lung Association believes everyone should be protected from the harms of tobacco use, and stands ready to work with other municipalities and states to enact similar policies to reduce tobacco and e-cigarette use.”

    Meanwhile, the comment period on the FDA’s proposed flavor rulemaking ends June 19. The federal agency has the power to ban e-juice flavors nationally, and will certainly consider successful local bans as encouragement to do it. CASAA has suggestions for vapers who want to make comments on the official FDA docket.

    San Francisco serves as home base for JUUL Labs, maker of the world’s most popular vaping product. Despite the threat of a flavor ban in its hometown, JUUL Labs didn’t oppose the ban vigorously. The company didn’t respond to the New York Times’ requests for comment on the law, and also passed on its chance to address vapers through Vaping360, instead issuing a statement about conducting research on flavors to learn more about their usefulness.

    The election was part of the larger statewide primary that selected candidates for the fall general election, including candidates for the California Board of Equalization, an executive agency that administers some taxes and oversees county property tax assessments. Among the primary winners for posts at that agency was the author of the San Francisco flavor ban, Board of Supervisors member Malia Cohen.

    The Board of Equalization is known as a cesspool of cronyism that serves as little more than a bullpen for politicians waiting for friendly legislative districts to open up. Cohen will fit right in.

    Jim McDonald
    Smokers created vaping without any help from the tobacco industry or anti-smoking crusaders, and vapers have the right to keep innovating to help themselves. My goal is to provide clear, honest information about the challenges vaping faces from lawmakers, regulators, and brokers of disinformation. I recently joined the CASAA board, but my opinions aren’t necessarily CASAA’s, and vice versa. You can find me on Twitter @whycherrywhy