(Ellie Doyen/Special to S.F. Examiner)

Juul-backed measure to overturn SF’s vaping sales ban qualifies for November ballot

A showdown over San Francisco’s vaping sales ban is set for this November after the Department of Elections on Wednesday certified a ballot measure seeking to overturn the prohibition.

The measure was placed on the ballot through a signature campaign by the Coalition for Reasonable Vaping Regulations, which is funded by San Francisco-based vaping manufacturer Juul.

The group collected more than double the approximately 9,400 signatures needed to qualify for the ballot and submitted them to the department for certification last week.

“This initiative will bring the strongest regulation for an age-restricted product in the City – more than alcohol and other tobacco products,” Nate Allbee, spokesperson for the Coalition for Reasonable Vaping Regulation, said in a statement. “We are confident voters do not want to ban the best mechanism for quitting smoking while leaving cigarettes, the leading cause of preventable death in the U.S., on the shelves. These regulations are the best way to stop youth vaping.”

The measure 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 customers identification to verify it is valid.

Supervisor Shamann Walton, the author of the vaping sales ban, blasted the campaign.

“Juul will continue to work hard to deliberately deliver misguided messages to the residents here in San Francisco,” Walton said. “I am excited that we have a voting populace that will see right through their messaging and know that their ballot measure focuses on regulations that are already in place.”

He added, “The amount of money they are spending on targeting our young people for a lifetime addiction to nicotine is disgusting.”

Juul has recently reported spending another $1 million on the campaign, bringing the total to $1.5 million.

Companies have spent millions in recent years on campaigns seeking to overturn San Francisco health-related policies, without success.

In 2016, the soda industry spent $22.6 million in an unsuccessful bid to defeat the soda tax measure, while in 2018, R.J. Reynolds spent $12.8 million in a failed bid to reject a ban on flavored tobacco.

Asked last week if Juul would fund a record-breaking multi-million campaign, Allbee said, “Can’t guess.”

“Juul being a leader in this campaign is appropriate. They are a San Francisco company. They are hiring thousands of San Franciscans and thousands of San Franciscans are using their product,” Allbee said.

The Board of Supervisors unanimously approved the vaping sales ban on June 25 and Mayor London Breed also supported it. The sales ban would remain in effect until the U.S. Food and Drug Administration issued guidance after reviewing the products for their health impacts.

“There is so much we don’t know about the health impacts of these products, but we do know that e-cigarette companies are targeting our kids in their advertising and getting them hooked on addictive nicotine products,” Breed said at the time. “We need to take action to protect the health of San Francisco’s youth and prevent the next generation of San Franciscans from becoming addicted to these products.”

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