San Francisco Makes History by Banning E-Cigarette Sales
On June 25, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors voted unanimously, 11-0, to ban the sale of e-cigarettes. The new ordinances prohibit stores from selling e-cigarettes and also prohibit anyone from selling them online to buyers with a San Francisco address. Additionally, the Board voted to ban companies from manufacturing e-cigarettes on city property. If Mayor London Breed signs the ordinances, the city will start to enforce the new rules in 7 months. Breed has said that she supports the ban.
San Francisco will be the first American city to ban e-cigarette sales, but it’s also home to the headquarters of Juul Labs, Inc., the largest e-cigarette company in the country. Juul vaping devices account for about 70% of the entire e-cigarette market. The problem, according to supporters of the ban, is that Juul’s products lack FDA regulation. Dennis Herrera, the City Attorney, said that the ban “wouldn’t be necessary if the federal government had done its job.” He was referring to the legal requirement that products like e-cigarettes not be sold until they pass an FDA safety review.
The FDA has not reviewed any vaping products – from Juul or any other company – yet hasn’t banned them either. City leaders from San Francisco as well as New York City and Chicago have criticized the FDA for what they consider to be a failure of oversight.
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A Response to Teenage Vaping
The supporters of the ban also expressed concern for children’s health. Vaping has become very popular with teenagers, so much so that the number of high school students who use e-cigarettes skyrocketed by 78% in 2018. Since e-cigarettes contain nicotine, an addictive substance, the Mayor and the Board are worried that vaping will harm teenagers in San Francisco. Although the smoking age in California is 21, vaping devices are common in San Francisco schools.
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. 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.
Juul’s Response to the E-Cigarette Sales Ban
Juul adamantly opposes the ordinances. The company spent over $600,000 to lobby against the new rules and has been collecting signatures for a petition to challenge the ordinances on the ballot this November. Juul said that it does not advertise its products to minors. As evidence, the company cited its decision to delete its social media accounts, which young people were most likely to see, and stop selling flavored e-cigarettes, which were most popular among teenagers. Juul also stated that the ban may be counterproductive for fighting nicotine addiction.
This full prohibition will drive former adult smokers who successfully switched to vapor products back to deadly cigarettes, deny the opportunity to switch for current adult smokers, and create a thriving black market instead of addressing the actual causes of underage access and use.
In addition to Juul, some small businesses in San Francisco also oppose the ban because many city residents visit family-owned stores to buy Juul devices.
Regardless, other cities may soon follow San Francisco’s example. Vaping is such a new phenomenon that governments and regulatory agencies are just starting to catch up. It is possible that the regulation of e-cigarettes will leave the confines of local politics and become a national issue in the future.
[UPDATE: On September 30, 2019, under mounting political pressure, Juul suspended its campaign to overturn the city’s ordinances through a ballot initiative. The company had contributed almost $19 million to support Proposition C, which would have permitted the sale of e-cigarettes to adults in San Francisco. Proposition C will still be on the city ballot in November.]