San Francisco Voters Uphold Ban on Flavored Vaping Products


The measure is considered the strictest in the nation. Voters backed it despite an expensive advertising campaign funded by a big tobacco company.

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Voters in San Francisco on Tuesday upheld a ban on all flavored tobacco products, from colorfully packaged e-liquids to menthol cigarettes.CreditMike Segar/Reuters

Despite a $12-million dollar ad blizzard by a big tobacco company, voters in San Francisco resoundingly supported a new ban on the selling of flavored tobacco products, including vaping products packaged as candies and juice boxes, and menthol cigarettes. It is said to be the most restrictive in the country.

Although the vote had been expected to be tight, city residents overwhelmingly favored so-called Proposition E, roughly 68 percent to 32 percent.

“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,” said Dr. Melissa Welch, a spokeswoman for the American Heart Association, one of several national organizations that fought to uphold the ban.

Although using electronic cigarettes, or vaping, is touted as a means of smoking cessation, parents, public health advocates and federal regulators have expressed growing concern as some studies show that the products are gateways to smoking for teenagers. E-cigarettes give users a powerful hit of nicotine, but without the mix of toxins contained in traditional, combustible cigarettes.

Proponents of the ban pointed to some 7,000 products, including those with flavors said to be particularly alluring to young users like bubble gum, chicken and waffles, and unicorn milk.

San Francisco’s Board of Supervisors unanimously approved the ban last year. It was to take effect in April. But R. J. Reynolds Tobacco Company, which makes popular vaping products called Vuse, as well as Newport menthol cigarettes, propelled a campaign to block it by getting the initiative on Tuesday’s ballot. According to a spokesman, the company spent about $12 million to saturate the city with multimedia ads in English, Spanish, Cantonese and Mandarin. The ads likened the ban to Prohibition, invoking a black market crime wave.

Jacob McConnico, a spokesman for R. J. Reynolds, called the vote “a setback for tobacco harm reduction efforts because it removes from the market many potentially reduced-risk alternatives.”

Nevertheless, he added, the company would urge federal officials to draft regulations to restrict youths’ access to the products while “preserving choice for adult smokers who are looking for alternatives to help them switch.”

Libertarians took up the protest too, saying that the government was overreaching.

Small business owners also fought back, saying that the ban would sharply reduce their profits.

“Anchor products allow us to stay competitive to big-box stores, and we will lose regular customers that keep our doors open,” said Miriam Zouzounis, a board member of the Arab American Grocers Association, which represents over 400 businesses in San Francisco. She said the law would disproportionately affect Arab, Sikh and Asian store owners.

Juul Labs, maker of the top-selling vaping devices, which is based in San Francisco, did not have a prominent voice in the debate. The company did not respond to requests for comment.

But a coalition of groups, including the American Cancer Society, the American Heart Association, the American Lung Association and Tobacco-Free Kids Action Fund, conducted a vigorous drive to uphold the ban. Their war chest was significantly smaller — $2.3 million, including a $1.8 million personal contribution from Michael R. Bloomberg, the former mayor of New York City.

A leading voice behind the ban was the African-American Tobacco Control Leadership Council, a local group that has sought to limit sales of flavored tobacco near schools in numerous jurisdictions. Its attention to menthol in particular was in response to the booming sales of Newport among minorities, who have seen disproportionately high mortality rates related to smoking.

“The ban on menthol cigarettes is a monumental step forward for health equity and social justice for communities of color,” said Dr. Phil Gardiner, a co-chairman of the council.

The ban is expected to take effect within days after the vote is officially certified.

Jan Hoffman has been a Science reporter since 2013. Before that she wrote about young adolescence and family dynamics for Styles and was the legal affairs correspondent for Metro. She joined The Times in 1992.

 



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