Despite strong pushback by small business owners, the Board of Supervisors will consider a proposed ban on the sale of menthol cigarettes and other flavored tobacco products within city limits.
The proposal was sanctioned with a few amendments by the Public Safety and Neighborhood Committee on Wednesday, and will move to the full board for a vote on June 20.
Proposed by Supervisor Malia Cohen in April, the ban would amend The City’s Health Code to prohibit local tobacco retailers from selling flavored tobacco products, including menthol cigarettes, flavored chewing tobacco and flavored liquids containing nicotine commonly used in electronic cigarettes.
Similar restrictive ordinances are being considered in other parts of the Bay Area, including Oakland and Contra Costa County.
Wednesday’s hearing stretched some three hours and drew a capacity crowd as small business owners faced off with city leaders and anti-tobacco advocates on a proposal that some feared would stifle small businesses locally and promote a black market economy.
“We are punishing our San Francisco-based businesses and giving economic advantages to businesses that are outside [of The City],” said Regina Dick-Endrizzi, executive director of the Office of Small Business, adding that flavored tobacco products would still be easily accessible online and in other counties.
Retailers whose revenue is anchored in tobacco sales agreed.
“It is definitely going to hurt my business,” said Monesh Josan, who owns a 7-Eleven store in the Financial District and anticipates a 40 percent loss in revenue should the ban be imposed.
Josan said he has spent significant resources on training his staff to comply with state laws regarding tobacco sales to minors, and said that the ban would not only counteract his efforts, but fuel illegal sales of these products.
“How are you going to prevent a guy standing out in the street with a backpack full of flavored tobacco or menthols selling to the kids?” Josan asked.
In 2009, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration banned cigarettes with fruit, candy and spice flavors, but menthol cigarettes and other flavored tobacco products were not included in this ban.
Although the use of cigarettes is declining nationwide, the sale of the flavored tobacco products has increased steadily in recent years, specifically among youth and new smokers, said Stephanie Winn McCorkle, associate director of the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network.
With over 7,000 flavors ranging from bubblegum to gummy bear, Winn McCorkle said that youth are the obvious targets of the tobacco industry’s “marketing maneuvers,” with “upwards of 20 percent nationally in high schools” using electronic cigarettes.
Cohen said the tough ban is a necessary measure to protect The City’s youth, minority and low-income populations who are most aggressively targeted by the tobacco industry’s advertising campaigns. San Francisco expends some $380 million annually on tobacco-related healthcare expenses.
“The goal of this ordinance is to keep people from smoking in the first place,” said Cohen. “Freedom of choice isn’t free if we are collectively paying $380 million a year for healthcare expenses, it’s not really free.”
The ban would take effect Jan. 1, 2018.