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SF to ban sale of flavored tobacco products, including menthol cigarettes

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(Ekevara Kitpowsong/ Special to S.F. Examiner)

San Francisco and Oakland are advancing proposals to ban the sale of menthol cigarettes and other tobacco flavored products in a move meant to protect the health of children and black communities who are largely targeted by manufacturers of such harmful products.

Supervisor Malia Cohen introduced legislation Tuesday to ban the sale of flavored tobacco products after announcing the proposal with the support of Mayor Ed Lee.

“It’s time for us to focus on flavor,” Cohen said. “Restricting the sale of flavored tobacco is vital to ensuring that we give the next generation a fighting chance, a fighting chance of living a healthy full live otherwise cut short by preventable diseases.”

If approved, San Francisco would ban the sale of such tobacco products as menthol cigarettes, flavored cigars, flavored smokeless tobacco, flavored shisha, and flavored nicotine solutions that are used in electronic cigarettes.

“The disproportionate use of menthol cigarettes among targeted groups, especially the extremely high use among African-Americans, is troubling because of the long-term adverse health impacts on those groups,” according to Cohen’s legislation.

Oakland city council member Annie Campbell Washington, who co-authored a similar proposal in Oakland, was on hand with Cohen on the steps of San Francisco City Hall for the announcement to show her support. “It is unconscionable for us to not act as adults when we know there is a product that is killing our children, being targeted to our children,” she said.

“We first took on big soda and succeeded and now we are taking on big tobacco together,” she added, referring to a successful soda tax measure placed on the San Francisco ballot in November by Cohen and a similar measure that Oakland voters also approved that election.

Tobacco is the leading cause of preventable death in the U.S., killing more than 480,000 people each year, according to the legislation. San Francisco spends $380 million per year on health care expenses and lost productivity due to tobacco use.

For San Francisco, it’s only the latest effort aimed to reduce tobacco sales. In 2014, the board adopted legislation from then-Supervisor Eric Mar that placed a cap per supervisorial district on the number of tobacco-sale permits allowed.

Lee has already promised to sign the legislation into law. “That’s why they flavor it. They are trying to get vulnerable populations hooked.” Lee said. “It is being hooked that brings in the profit.”

If approved, the law would go into effect January 2018. Retailers that violate the law could have their tobacco sales permit suspended.

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