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

SF becomes first U.S. city to ban sale of e-cigarettes

Legislation expected to be challenged by Juul-backed ballot measure

San Francisco became the first city in the U.S. to ban the sale of e-cigarettes Tuesday despite opposition from corner store owners and local vaping manufacturer Juul.

The Board of Supervisors voted 11-0 to approve the legislation introduced by Supervisor Shamann Walton, which is intended to prevent youth from vaping.

“We spent the ’90s battling Big Tobacco. And now we see its new form through e-cigarettes,” Walton said. “I am not going to put profits of Big Tobacco over the health of our children and our young people.”

The sales ban will remain in place until the U.S. Food and Drug Administration reviews the products for their public health impacts.

Supervisor Rafael Mandelman called the ban “reasonable.”

“Much of the progress that has been made in reducing nicotine addiction and reducing people using cigarettes is being eroded among young people who are rushing toward e-cigarettes at an alarming rate,” Mandelman said.

Vaping is popular among the nation’s youth, with more than 3.6 million young people in the U.S., including 1 in 5 high school students, reporting use of e-cigarettes in 2018, according to an advisory issued last year by Surgeon General Jerome Adams. Adams called it an “epidemic.”

“Nicotine is highly addictive and can harm adolescent brain development, which continues into the early to mid-20s,” according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Corner stores opposed the ban for the loss of revenue. But supervisors vowed to esstablish a working group to come up with assistance to help them transition away from the vaping products.

“We have a duty to better understand the impacts of this ban on these small businesses and to develop a comprehensive strategy for supporting them through this transition,” said Superivsor Gordon Mar.

The Small Business Commission advised against the ban. The Office of Small Business said in an email to board members prior to the vote that the ban would cost the 738 businesses in The City with licenses to sell tobacco and e-cigarettes about $70 million in sales, or $95,355 per store. This comes after these businesses suffered a $50 million loss in sales from the flavored tobacco ban that went into effect last year, which breaks down to $67,750 per store.

A second and final vote to approve the legislation is expected next week. It would go into effect after six months.

Opponents of the ban argue e-cigarettes can help people stop smoking more harmful cigarettes. But Walton said that “according to the Center for Disease Control, scientists still have a lot to learn about whether e-cigarettes are effective for quitting smoking.”

But it is likely the final say on the issue will be made by voters. Juul has contributed $500,000 to the Coalition for Reasonable Vaping Regulation, which is gathering signatures to place a referendum on the November ballot.

“The prohibition of vapor products for all adults in San Francisco will not effectively address underage use and will leave cigarettes on shelves as the only choice for adult smokers, even though they kill 40,000 Californians every year,” said a Juul Labs spokesperson in a statement. “We will continue to work with local policymakers, small businesses, community leaders and adult smokers who have switched to vapor products to enact stronger regulation and enforcement rather than complete prohibition.”

jsabatini@sfexaminer.com

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