The city of San Francisco has banned the sale of e-cigarettes, becoming one of the first municipalities in the U.S., along with Beverly Hills, to place such tight restrictions on the nicotine-delivery technology. San Francisco’s ban is scheduled to start in early 2020, but traditional nicotine cigarettes and vapes for cannabis will remain legal in the city.
San Francisco’s Board of Supervisors voted unanimously in favor of the ban yesterday, which will remain in place indefinitely until the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) studies the safety of vaping products, something that it has largely failed to do. Beverly Hills’ anti-vaping ordinance, which doesn’t go into effect until 2021, will ban the sale of all tobacco products, though cigar lounges and hotels are exempted.
The new San Francisco e-cigarette ban also contains language outlawing any flavored tobacco product, whether it’s vaped or smoked. San Francisco’s mayor, London Breed, has previously said that she’ll sign the new legislation when it reaches her desk.
San Francisco is the headquarters of Juul Labs, the largest name in vaping today, making the city an odd place for a ban on its signature product. But city officials say that it’s all about fighting a public health scourge that’s targeting young people—young people who don’t even recognize Juuling is an e-cigarette product, according to a recent survey.
Altria, the parent company formerly known as Philip Morris, made a $12.8 billion investment in Juul last year, giving the traditional tobacco giant a 35 percent stake in the relatively new vaping company. And some public health experts have warned that electronic cigarettes are just a smokescreen to get kids addicted to nicotine from an early age. Others champion e-cigarettes as a harm reduction device and are less worried about the traditional tobacco companies getting involved in e-cigarettes.
San Francisco first announced its intention to ban e-cigs back in March, explaining that pre-market reviews for e-cigarettes have never been done. Those reviews would assess the potential negative health effects of e-cigs, something that’s hotly debated in the wider health care community.
“The ordinance is not a permanent ban. It is a moratorium until due diligence is carried out by the FDA concerning Big Tobacco companies like Juul marketing to our youth,” city supervisor Shamann Walton, who sponsored the legislation, said at a hearing last week.
“Companies like Juul have had three years to submit their product and marketing to the FDA. The question is why haven’t they. And the answer is because they want to protect their profits to continue targeting and harming our young people and they know nicotine is not healthy,” Walton continued.
The most recent health surveys have found that 21 percent of American high school seniors were vaping in 2018, roughly double the rate of 2017. Traditional smoking, drinking, and opioid use are falling among high schoolers, but vaping is skyrocketing, and even President Trump’s former FDA commissioner considers it a real emergency.
Juul did not immediately respond to Gizmodo’s request for comment early Wednesday morning but has previously raised concerns that e-cigarettes are being targeted specifically for bans when traditional cigarettes are still perfectly legal.
“We share the City of San Francisco’s concerns with youth usage of tobacco and vapor products, including our own. That is why we have taken aggressive action nationwide, including stopping the sale of flavored products to retailers and supporting strong, restrictive category wide regulation to keep e-cigarettes out of the hands of youth,” Juul told Gizmodo back in March. “But this proposed legislation’s primary impact will be to limit adult smokers’ access to products that can help them switch away from combustible cigarettes.”
“We encourage the City of San Francisco to severely restrict youth access but do so in a way that preserves the opportunity to eliminate combustible cigarettes, Juul continued. “This proposed legislation begs the question - why would the City be comfortable with combustible cigarettes being on shelves when we know they kill more than 480,000 Americans per year?”
Recent reports suggest that Juul is thinking about opening its own vape shops, though no final decision has been made. The rationale, presumably, would be to limit exposure to youth in the same way that tobacco shops or liquor stores might. But with Juul’s savvy for marketing, you can bet it would look much more like an Apple store than your average American liquor store.
Silicon Valley has gotten a lot of flak in recent years for the alleged addictive properties of its products like Facebook, Instagram, and smartphones. And tech founders are notorious for banning their own kids from using their technologies at an early age. San Francisco has even instituted a ban on facial recognition cameras in the city, shielding the very people who have built our most dystopian technologies from feeling the impact of their use. So perhaps it makes sense that San Francisco would be one of the first cities to ban the sale of a product that’s making some people in that city incredibly rich. Tobacco executives felt the same way in the 20th century.
As one R.J. Reynolds executive reportedly said in the 1990s, “We don’t smoke that shit. We just sell it. We reserve the right to smoke for the young, the poor, the black, and stupid.”