San Francisco Residents Voted to Ban Flavored Tobacco Products from Stores

On June 5, 2018, San Francisco residents voted to ban flavored tobacco products, including flavored e-cigarette liquids and menthol cigarettes, from store shelves. After city council officials unanimously agreed to place a ban on these products, city residents voted on Proposition E, a referendum intended to let consumers make the final decision on the council’s ban. CNN reports that, “with 99 percent of precincts reporting, 68 percent had voted in favor of Proposition E and 31 percent opposed.” The ban still allows the sale or purchase of online transactions or products supplied from outside of San Francisco.

The full effects of the ban have yet to be felt, but during a rally leading up to the referendum, Donna Anderson, a San Francisco resident who did not support the ban, said, “You’re just driving sales underground…it will not stop people from accessing what they want or using what they want.” The ban on these products has been compared to the Prohibition era in “No on E” campaign ads, as the laws that banned alcohol did not actually stop its consumption.

Additionally, many believe that the decision hurts small, local businesses in San Francisco since some stores are completely dedicated to selling flavored tobacco products. According to Patrick Reynolds, the executive director of Foundation for Smokefree America, the tobacco industry is worried that “other cities will follow suit” and place increasingly serious regulations on tobacco-related products.

Supports, however, believe that the ban can prevent young adults and teenagers from becoming addicted to nicotine in the first place. The “No More Flavored Tobacco” coalition said in a statement that, “Flavored tobacco products – including menthol cigarettes and candy-flavored e-cigarettes – are a key part in the industry’s strategy to lure youth, particularly youth of color, into becoming tomorrow’s addicted users.”

In addition to San Francisco, other Bay Area communities such as Oakland, Berkeley, Palo Alto, Los Gatos, and Santa Clara County have also passed bans on the sale of flavored tobacco products. Across the U.S., other cities have passed or are looking to pass varying levels of regulations on the distribution of these products. For instance, CNN reports that in Chicago, retailers are prohibited from selling these products within a 500 foot radius of a school, barring a few exceptions for some stores. In New York City, lawmakers have proposed to ban flavored tobacco products, except for menthol-flavored cigarettes and other items. The Public Health Law Center has an interactive map that describes U.S. e-cigarette regulations across all fifty states.

Originally, e-cigarettes were introduced as an alternative to regular cigarettes. More importantly, they are marketed as a tool to help adult smokers quit, as consumers can often purchase e-cigarette cartridges according to nicotine content. In theory, long-time smokers can gradually decrease the levels of nicotine content and finally quit smoking. Brands such as Juul state that its mission is aimed towards “improving the lives of the one billion adult smokers,” so that “people who smoke cigarettes have the tools to reduce or eliminate their consumption entirely, should they so desire.”

However, while e-cigarettes have been aimed toward adults, reports have shown that teens are also regularly using them. According to a 2016 report by the former U.S. Surgeon General, Dr. Vivek H. Murthy, in recent years, e-cigarette use has been “growing an astounding 900 percent among high school students from 2011 to 2015. These products are now the most commonly used form of tobacco among youth in the United States.”

Additionally, in a recent survey conducted by the Truth Initiative, about 63 percent of participants, aged 15 to 24, were not aware that Juul contained nicotine. Many health professionals are concerned, as a 2018 article published in by the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI) suggested that “e-cigarette use currently represents more population-level harm than benefit.”

Credit: Snapwire

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