San Francisco City Officials Vote to Ban Sales of E-Cigarettes

Locally headquartered Juul Labs Inc. has already announced its plan to overturn the decision.
San Francisco City Officials Vote to Ban Sales of E-Cigarettes
Aleksandr Yu/ Shutterstock

Concerned over e-cigarettes’ health risk to residents, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors voted unanimously on Tuesday to become the first major United States city to ban the sale of the products. The prohibition applies to both in-store sales and delivery of e-cigarettes to city addresses. It will take effect at the beginning of next year. 

The ban, which follows voters’ decision last year to prohibit sales of fruit- and dessert-flavored tobacco products, is not meant to be permanent, but rather to put restrictions on the vape pens while they are being reviewed by the Food and Drug Administration. One caveat — the federal agency’s findings are not due to come out until 2022. 

Supervisors are underplussed by any economic duress this may put on e-cig companies. 

“Companies like Juul have had three years to submit their product and marketing to the FDA,” says Supervisor Shamann Walton, who co-sponsored the regulation. “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.”

Ironically, the company that makes popular Juul e-cigs (“the hottest name in addiction technology,” according to a Gizmodo headline) is also based in the city. Juul Labs Inc., perhaps afraid of the ban catching on in other municipalities, has announced that it will gather signatures to get a measure on ballots that, if successful, would overturn the Board’s decision. 

And not only that — legal experts say the language on the bill to which Juul has pledged $500,000 to promote would prevent the city from regulating e-cigarettes in the future. 

“This is not a new tactic or an unexpected one,” said attorney Derek Carr of Oakland health equity non-profit ChangeLab Solutions. “It’s really not the role of the tobacco industry to be telling us what’s good for our health and writing our public health laws.”

The company will need to collect 9,485 signatures by July 8 to get the ballot measure on the November ballot. In 2018, tobacco corporation R.J. Reynolds spent $12 million on fighting a proposed ballot measure ban on flavored tobacco products.

There is certainly cause for alarm over the massive amounts of money that are being pumped into the vaping industry. Studies have shown that Juul marketed early ads to the teen market, and more recently Vice Media was exposed while planning a vaping ad campaign targeted at its youthful audience. In 2018 the US Surgeon General warned of an “e-cigarette epidemic” taking place among the country’s youth, an alarming declaration that is nonetheless backed up by scientific data.

Complicating matters are the sometimes severe health risks that are being uncovered as further study of vape pens are conducted. Product testing has found lead in some cartridges, and other toxic metals like chromium, manganese, and nickel.  

Of course, not every part of the Juul counter-bill removes restrictions on e-cigs, though the stipulations in question may not be exactly the ones that health advocates would like to see. The measure would limit customers to buying two devices and 20 cartridges per shopping trip.

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