Feinstein quietly comes out against JUUL-backed vaping ballot measure

There was no fanfare, no press release, no fiery-denunciation.

But with a vote cast by a proxy at the San Francisco Democratic Party board’s regular meeting Wednesday night, a new major opponent of JUUL’s ballot initiative to repeal a ban of its products emerged.

U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein.

Feinstein voted “no” on the Party’s proposal to endorse Proposition C, the JUUL-backed ballot measure. She wasn’t alone, as the measure only garnered three “yes” votes out of the roughly 32 voting members.

You could say JUUL just got smoked.

Proposition C, billed as a “responsible” response to skyrocketing vaping use among children and teenagers — which the Center for Disease Control and Prevention called an “epidemic” — would peel back a ban on vaping products in San Francisco passed by the Board of Supervisors in April. That ban, meant to protect kids, has a pretty smart built-in caveat: If the U.S. Food and Drug Administration reviews JUUL’s products for safety, they can be sold again in The City.

Feinstein joins Speaker Nancy Pelosi in her opposition to the JUUL-backed measure, lending some major names to the effort to knock out Big Tobacco — but even that may not help.

JUUL has already spent more than $4 million in its efforts to boost its ballot measure. All those swarms of folks hoisting pro-Prop. C signs on Market Street don’t come cheap.

The two groups opposing Prop. C have raised about $442,000 together, all told. That’s peanuts, frankly. David had more ammunition to toss at Goliath.

This is not our former mayor’s first whack at JUUL. In April, just as Supervisor Shamann Walton was passing San Francisco’s vape ban, Feinstein, Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) and Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-Maryland) introduced the bipartisan bill “Preventing Online Sales of E-Cigarettes to Children Act,” which would prevent online sales of vapes to minors by applying strict age verification measures to online sales.

“Buying e-cigarettes online is one of the easiest ways for children and teens to get their hands on these harmful products,” Feinstein said when the bill was introduced. “E-cigarette use by middle and high school students is rising at an alarming rate, posing serious risks to their brain development and leading to addiction at an early age.”

While the JUUL-backed ballot measure got its teeth kicked in, proverbially, some did argue hard for it. Democratic Party Board member Keith Baraka told his colleagues “I’m not proud to say I am a smoker. But I will say I don’t think it’s fair … to take the option away from me to have a step-down from combustible cigarettes.”

He added, “If we can support safe injection sites or wet houses as a form of harm reduction, why can’t we support vaping?”

San Francisco Democratic Part Chair David Campos pushed back.

JUUL has “chosen” not to allow vaping products to be reviewed at the federal level, he said. “They do not want an objective review of the product.”

The ban would be lifted should they do so, he added.

JUUL never had much of a chance. Many Democrats in San Francisco are on board for the vape ban, aware that Big Tobacco is about to burn millions to beat it back.

And powerhouse consultant Matt Dorsey came out of retirement from campaign work to help the opposition campaign to Prop. C. His long-time connection to the Democratic Party and reputation as a sensible progressive centrist would’ve doomed JUUL’s chances should the Dems have needed moving.

JUUL wasn’t the only entity to take a political beating at the Democratic Party board last night (also known as the Democratic County Central Committee, or DCCC for short).

Supervisor Vallie Brown locked in the Democratic Party’s sole endorsement for her race to win her District 5 supervisor seat against opponent Dean Preston.

That’s big backing for low-information voters, especially necessary in an election that may be low-turnout, with no big-ticket draws like a contested mayor’s race or presidential bid to draw voters out.

Preston only netted a single vote in support from the Dems, Wednesday night.

The writing was on the wall as far back as January, however, when Supervisor Sandra Lee Fewer organized votes for Supervisor Norman Yee to become Board of Supervisors president.

Fewer voted directly for Brown at the DCCC meeting, an eyebrow-raiser for some, as Fewer and Preston are both progressives. So why support the moderate-Democrat ally, Brown?

Some insiders told me it was all part of the deal for Brown to support Yee as president. Certainly, dealmaking is never a politician’s only reasoning behind such a vote — but it sure doesn’t hurt, either.

Preston’s gambit was to get his allies on the DCCC to vote “no endorsement” to block Brown’s win, but it was unsuccessful, thanks to a few abstentions from DCCC progressive Democrats, including Leah LaCroix and Frances Hsieh. To get real nerdy on you for a second, those abstentions lowered the threshold of votes necessary for Brown to clinch the endorsement.

“Had one vote flipped on this 32 person body, we would have blocked the endorsement,” Preston wrote in a statement on Facebook after the vote. “It was sad and embarrassing to see the local party which should be leading the progressive movement instead endorsing the failed status quo.”

Neither Fewer or Brown immediately returned requests for comment.

On Guard prints the news and raises hell each week. Email Fitz at joe@sfexaminer.com, follow him on Twitter and Instagram @FitztheReporter, and Facebook at facebook.com/FitztheReporter.

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