San Francisco has passed bans on the sale of both flavored tobacco and vaping products in recent years. (Mira Laing/2017 Special to S.F. Examiner)

City looks at ways to help small businesses survive flavored tobacco, e-cigarette bans

A proposal from Supervisor Shamann Walton to establish a working group to help small businesses weather the flavored tobacco and e-cigarette ban is expected to receive approval by the Board of Supervisors Tuesday.

The board’s Rules Committee approved the measure Monday.

“Supervisor [Sandra] Fewer and I are putting forward this resolution in order to let everyone know we are serious about supporting our small businesses here in San Francisco,” said Walton. “I have said before that small businesses are the backbone of a lot of our communities here in The City. We want our small businesses to thrive and we need to put policies in place that will help small businesses succeed here in San Francisco.”

Walton promised to push for the working group to address concerns from small businesses over his legislation banning e-cigarettes that the board approved in June. The ban kicks in in about six months.

As of April, there were 731 tobacco sales permits issued for San Francisco. The highest concentration of permits is in District 3, where there are 128, followed by District 6, where there are 122.

Last year the board and then voters approved a ban on the sale of flavored tobacco products like menthol cigarettes. A report this month from the Department of Public Health said inspections have found 80 percent of businesses are complying with the flavored tobacco sales ban.

A June 2017 economic impact report estimated businesses would suffer a $50 million annual loss from the flavored tobacco ban. The Office of Small Business estimated that businesses would lose another $70 million in annual sales from the ban on e-cigarettes.

Voters in November will determine if the e-cigarette sales ban remains law.

“We sat down with the Small Business Commission and several small business advocates to work on this resolution to convene a small business economic mitigation working group,” Walton said.

Dominica Donovan, a senior policy analyst with the Office of Small Business and the Small Business Commission, which recommended the working group, said, “We are confident that this effort will lead to sustainable positive outcomes for our small businesses.”

Under the resolution, the Office of Small Business will “convene a Small Business Economic Mitigation Working Group within 60 days to develop recommendations on immediate and long-term economic mitigation measures.”

The group would be expected to issue recommendations within six months, including to “identify alternative revenue sources for our small merchants and grocers including diversifying inventory such as having a combination of open food booths like delis.”

The recommendations would also look into streamlining permitting and expanding The City’s financial support of stores to offer healthier products under the Healthy Retail SF program.

In addition to city officials, the working group is to include small business representatives from a smoke shop, a merchant organization and two small grocers.

The resolution also calls on the City Controller’s Office to provide an updated economic impact analysis on the bans as well as on city fees impacting small businesses.

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