Juul e-cigarettes sitting on a shelf amongst tabacco cigarettes on Friday, April 26, 2019. (Ellie Doyen/Special to S.F. Examiner)

Vaping proponents sue SF over language for November ballot measure

  • Aug. 23, 2019 4:15 p.m.

Proponents for a measure backed by E-cigarette maker Juul Labs Inc. that would overturn a city ban on vaping products filed a lawsuit Friday challenging the language used on city ballots and voter information pamphlets.

The lawsuit filed by the Coalition for Reasonable Vaping Regulations asks the court to review what the group called “misleading claims” in the ballot language and in the ballot question drafted by City Attorney Dennis Herrera.

“One side of this issue wants to ban vaping and the other side wants to regulate it—but both sides should want to maintain the integrity of the democratic process. Language that falsely describes vaping products as unauthorized by the FDA or falsely claims our initiative will overturn the flavor ban should not be in the voter guide because they are simply not true. No matter how you feel about vaping you should not be okay with elected officials misleading voters to win an election,” Nate Albee, a spokesman for the campaign, said in a statement.

The city attorney’s office rejected the campaign’s claims on Thursday.

“Juul’s claims of bias are unfounded. The work our office produced reflected our best professional judgment and we stand by it unequivocally,” City Attorney’s Office spokesman John Cote said. “It’s no secret that City Attorney Herrera supported the city’s legislative effort to address youth vaping. Juul is simply wrong in saying that City Attorney Herrera has publicly taken a position on its ballot measure. He hasn’t.”

The ballot measure, Prop. C, would legalize the sale of vaping and e-cigarette products but introduce a regulatory scheme that includes limits on the number of devices and nicotine cartridges stores and online retailers can sell in a single transaction, a city permitting system and a requirement stores use technology to scan customer identification to verify it is valid. The proponents have spent more than $4.3 million already on the campaign.

The vaping coalition, which is largely funded by Juul, launched a signature campaign to place the measure on the ballot after city supervisors approved a ban on vaping product sales in June that was introduced by Supervisor Shamann Walton.

The ban, which is intended to counteract a growing epidemic of vaping among youth, in particular, would only allow the sales of vaping products to resume once certain conditions are met, including the issuance of guidance by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration after reviewing the products for their health impacts. Officials in San Francisco and other cities have previously called for the FDA to conduct a required review of vaping products, which has not so far taken place.

Friday’s lawsuit was filed after the measure’s proponents and opponents clashed over the language to describe the measure used on ballots and on voter information pamphlets to be sent out for the Nov. 5, 2019 election.

“The Ballot Simplification Committee is an independent body dedicated to giving voters clear, accurate information. The committee did that in this matter after a thorough public process. We’re confident the court will determine the language regarding the measure is accurate,” Cote said.

Former City Attorney Louise Renne issued a statement condemning the lawsuit, saying San Francisco’s Ballot Simplification Committee had already considered more than six hours of public testimony and debate on the measure’s language.

“Shame on Juul for using its limitless campaign funding on this political stunt to squander taxpayer and judicial resources — and to mislead voters into letting Big Tobacco’s lawyers rewrite the San Francisco Health Code,” Renne said.

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