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Big Tobacco pouring big money into Prop E

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Proposition E would ban flavored tobacco products in San Francisco including menthol cigarettes, flavored chewing tobacco and flavored liquids containing nicotine used in e-cigarettes. (Mira Laing/ Special to S.F. Examiner)

Tobacco companies and opponents of a ban on flavored tobacco products have contributed more than $11.5 million dollars to a high-profile campaign seeking to overturn it in the looming June 5 primary election, according to filings with the San Francisco Ethics Commission.

Proponents of Proposition E, which would ban flavored tobacco products including menthol cigarettes, flavored chewing tobacco and flavored liquids containing nicotine used in electronic cigarettes, say young people are targeted for the sale of the flavored products.

“Tobacco companies have a long history of developing and marketing flavored tobacco products as ‘starter’ products that attract kids,” Matthew L. Myers, president of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, said via email. “These products come in flavors like gummy bear, cotton candy and banana smash that clearly appeal to kids, and they’re often colorfully packaged to look just like candy and other kid-friendly products.”

Marketers also target minorities and the LGBT community, according to proponents, who say tobacco products have burdened The City with costs including increased health care costs due to tobacco-related illness. In 2009, the estimated cost of tobacco product litter in San Francisco came to nearly $7.5 million, according to a Health Economics Consulting Group LLC report.

Prop. E’s proponents, San Francisco Kids vs. Big Tobacco and the Yes on Proposition E Tobacco-Free Kids Action Fund, have received $2.3 million in monetary and in-kind contributions to curb big tobacco’s No on Prop E campaign— less than half of their opponents’ budget.

Opponents to the proposition, who are backed by large contributions from R.J. Reynolds, the second-largest tobacco company in the United States, say they are working to support freedom of choice for adults. They argue that the prohibition of products otherwise legal to adults doesn’t work and yields unintended consequences, such as increasing the policing of minorities and undercutting the profits of small businesses already hurt by existing anti-tobacco initiatives.

“There’s an existing long-term approach … to reduce the density of tobacco licenses in The City,” Miriam Zouzounis of the Arab American Grocers Association, said during an editorial board meeting with The Examiner. “What that did is prohibit a sale or transfer of a license, and for my community that’s how we stay in this country. We transfer our businesses to each other. A license is like a business owner’s 401k.”

Members of the No on Prop. E coalition will hold a rally on the steps of San Francisco City Hall today at 11 a.m.

EDITOR’S NOTE: The story has been updated to reflect the correct total for monetary and in-kind contributions for proponents of Prop. E.

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