San Francisco Set to Approve First-of-Its-Kind Ban on E-Cigarette Sales

Tobacco-flavored Juul pods on sale in San Francisco on June 17, 2019.
Photo: Samantha Maldonado (AP)

The city of San Francisco has become the first in the U.S. to move to ban all sales of e-cigarettes in a unanimous vote by city supervisors, SFGate reported on Tuesday, in what officials characterized as an effort to fight back against youth vaping.

The ban in question applies to the sale and distribution of e-cigarettes, with supervisors also voting to “endorse a ban on manufacturing of e-cigarettes on city property,” according to SFGate. Said ordinance would prevent businesses from selling e-cigarettes, or customers from receiving online shipments, until the Food and Drug Administration reviews the products (something it has not yet done, despite growing pressure for the agency to act). An all-but certain final vote to enact the ordinance will happen next week.

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Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data released earlier this year showing that just over one in five high schoolers in 2018 had used an e-cigarette product, leading then-FDA chief Scott Gottlieb to call underage vaping one of the country’s “biggest public health challenges.” Gottlieb acknowledged that vaping—which scientists currently believe is much less harmful than smoking, but remains poorly understood from a health perspective and could pose considerable risks—could play a role in harm reduction. But he added the FDA “will not allow that opportunity to come at the expense of addicting a whole new generation of kids to nicotine.”

“This is about thinking about the next generation of users and thinking about protecting the overall health and sending a message to the rest of the state and the country: Follow our lead,” Supervisor Ahsha Safaí said, SFGate wrote.

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The vote is particularly noteworthy because Juul, the leader in the industry and one which has faced relentless accusations of unethical behavior including marketing to underage demographics and abandoning its anti-smoking mission by accepting a nearly $13 billion investment from tobacco giant Altria, is headquartered in San Francisco. In fact, it is based on city-owned property at Pier 70.

Any measure wouldn’t go into effect for at least seven months, according to the San Francisco Chronicle, and Juul is lending its support to a signature-collection effort for a November ballot measure that would overrule the ordinance. That includes contributing $500,000 to the Coalition for Reasonable Vaping Regulation, the group collecting those signatures, per NBC News. The Chronicle noted the ban on city property wouldn’t be retroactive, meaning Juul could retain its Pier 70 property, though Juul also announced plans on Tuesday to move much of its workforce into a 28-story office tower downtown.

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“... The prohibition of vapor products for all adults in San Francisco will not effectively address underage use and will leave cigarettes on shelves as the only choice for adult smokers, even though they kill 40,000 Californians every year,” Juul spokesman Ted Kwong told NBC News.

The American Vaping Association, as well as groups that represent small business like the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce of San Francisco, also opposed the ordinance, according to the Chronicle.

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“Going after youth is a step that you can take before taking these out of the hands of adults,” association president Gregory Conley told the paper.

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Tom McKay

"... An upperclassman who had been researching terrorist groups online." - Washington Post