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Parents protest e-cigarette company’s Pier 70 tenancy

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A lease for e-cigarette company Juul was the subject of protests at a San Francisco Port Commission meeting Tuesday. (Courtesy image)

Parents, neighbors and city officials are steaming mad at the Port of San Francisco for allowing vape company JUUL to move into Pier 70, citing the major health risks posed to children and teens by e-cigarettes.

Though JUUL moved onto Port property last Winter, it was granted an expansion into a neighboring building in July, which kicked off behind-the-scenes efforts by the community to oust the vape company.

But in a Port Commission meeting Tuesday afternoon, Port Director Elaine Forbes said that her hands are tied.

There is no legal means by which the Port of San Francisco can exercise authority over JUUL because it is a subtenant of the Port’s tenant on Port property, Forbes told irate members of the public. The Port cannot evict a subtenant, she said.

“There is nothing in city code or city policy that would preclude JUUL from being a subtenant,” Forbes said. “We don’t have authority over those subtenants.”

James Madsen, a partner with Orton Development, which leases the Pier 70 space, did not respond to requests for comment.

Neighborhood newspaper the Potrero View first reported an earlier controversy over the location in June.

But angry emails from parents bombarded Port commissioners and the director over the weekend over JUUL’s tenancy at the historic Pier 70, which is owned by the Port and therefore city property. Students across San Francisco, and the country, are known to widely use the company’s vape pens, leading them to unhealthy nicotine addictions, parents told the Port commissioners.

Katherine Doumani, one of the lead organizers of the community effort and a member of the Port’s neighbor-driven Central Waterfront Advisory Group, told the Examiner that Madsen and Orton Development “betrayed the community.”

She’s been working in community groups to oust JUUL ever since she learned of its expansion, leading to the burst of community outrage this week.

At the Port Commission Tuesday, Christine Chessen told commissioners she is a parent raising three children in San Francisco. Recently, she told the commission, she found JUUL vape products in her teenager’s backpack.

Chessen told the commissioners her teen said, “‘a decent portion of my friends are addicted,’ and ‘they have withdrawal symptoms when they try to stop.’” Her teen’s friends vape in bathrooms at school for the head rush it brings. They vape until they vomit, which they call a “nic-sick,” she said.

“They fully embrace the tech company mantra of move fast and break things,” Chessen said. “Unfortunately, what they’re breaking is our children.”

Supervisor Malia Cohen and San Francisco Small Business Commissioner Mark Dwight both oppose JUUL occupying Port and city property. On Tuesday, Dwight told the Port Commission that Pier 70 property, The City’s “most precious” manufacturing space, should be occupied by businesses that support the community.

Cohen, who authored San Francisco’s flavored tobacco ban, told the San Francisco Examiner “JUUL is not welcomed. The neighborhood doesn’t want them and neither do I.”

JUUL announced Tuesday that it would suspend the sales of some flavors of its e-cigarettes, according to the Associated Press, but not all — and flavored tobacco will still be available at its physical stores. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has called vaping among children an “epidemic” in a press release, and said the vapes are as dangerous as cigarettes. Advocates say tobacco companies target children with exotic flavors, meant to lure in lifelong smokers.

joe@sfexaminer.com

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