JUUL’s ballot effort to repeal a San Francisco vape ban was dealt a blow Wednesday night.
Addressing a crowd of San Francisco Democrats, Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced she’s firmly against the tobacco-industry city ballot measure, Proposition C.
Speaking to San Francisco Democrats at the local Party’s annual dinner at the Intercontinental Hotel downtown, Pelosi spared no pain for JUUL and its big-tobacco part-owners, Altria.
“We have to thwart this brazen special interest attempt to addict our children to cigarettes,” Pelosi told the Dems. “Because of all the unknown short term and long term consequences of e-cigarettes, we cannot let corporate interests buy themselves this proposition.”
She added, “Say no to JUUL, no on C.”
Prop. C would peel back an e-cigarette ban authored by Supervisor Shamann Walton and passed unanimously by the Board of Supervisors in June. The ban — which would be automatically lifted if certain criteria are met, like if health studies on vaping are finally conducted by the federal government — was meant to curb a spike in children and teen vaping, which the Center for Disease and Control has called an “epidemic.”
But the tobacco industry is ready to spend big to knock out Walton’s ban. Its ballot measure wraps itself in talk about “responsible” vaping, with $4.3 million spent already to blanket San Francisco with that messaging.
That’s why Pelosi’s position is so important to JUUL’s opposition, political consultant Maureen Erwin told me. The ban’s proponents will never be able to match that kind of money, but they can out-maneuver the tobacco industry.
“Her name ID (among voters) is high, she’s speaker of the house,” Erwin noted.
Erwin, who has fought a similar battle before against deep-pocketed corporate interests — in her case, Big Soda’s effort to defeat San Francisco’s 2014 sugary beverage tax — said Pelosi’s public position against JUUL signifies an uncommonly united front among San Francisco Democrats.
Mayor London Breed. The Board of Supervisors. Now, Pelosi. That’s not an everyday level of unity on a potentially controversial measure.
“I would feature her in mail to show every elected leader, top-down, is against JUUL,” Erwin said.
Pelosi’s support also follows two major San Francisco Democratic clubs coming out against the JUUL-backed Prop. C, The Alice B. Toklas LGBT Democratic Club and the Harvey Milk LGBT Democratic Club.
Both are influential among LGBTQ San Francisco voters (and their allies) of various political stripes, the former leaning more moderate and the latter leaning more progressive.
Gina Simi and David Fujimoto, co-chairs of the Toklas club, noted it’ll be an uphill battle against big tobacco, but one they’re glad to join.
“We don’t comment on why or how PAC recommendations are made,” Simi said, “but we are proud to have a history of pushing back on big business when they try to buy elections for corporate gain at the expense of public health.”
By contrast, coming out against Prop. C, and in favor of the vape ban is a flip from the Milk Club’s previous stances. In 2014’s sugary beverage tax fight — yes, the same one Erwin worked on — the club took tens of thousands of dollars from the soda industry to send out campaign literature, and ended up coming out against the sugary beverage tax.
It was a black eye for the club among some local political insiders. Current Milk Club President Kevin Bard (who was not Milk Club president in 2014) said that was only one reason, among many, club members cited when coming out against this year’s Proposition C.
“In my view, the JUUL campaign is like the anti-beverage tax, but just worse,” Bard said.
Perhaps that’s why the Milk Club experienced so much fire and fury at its Tuesday night member meeting when it was revealed some members of the Milk Club executive board, who also had access to the club’s member rolls, are working on JUUL’s campaign. There’s no evidence anything was done with that information, Bard said, but the perception sparked fury with some members.
“It was really the concern about the club being stacked by a corporate interest that doesn’t necessarily have the Milk Club’s long term security or benefit in mind,” he said.
Bard in particular was concerned because linking the Milk Club with big tobacco would be another smear on the club’s reputation, just like allying with the soda industry was. The Milk Club even rejected JUUL’s offer to sponsor its annual Gayla event this year, which other groups like the Golden State Warriors and Recology did help fund.
“We remember history. We have long-term memories. We didn’t want to go through that again,” Bard said.
Ultimately, though, Bard said the argument that JUUL and other vape products put kids and teens in harm’s way carried the day, and nipped its proponents’ arguments in the bud.
“I’m running a no-drama presidency,” Bard said, “I don’t have time for that shit.”
On Guard prints the news and raises hell each week. Email Fitz at firstname.lastname@example.org, and follow him on Twitter and Instagram @FitztheReporter.