San Francisco could soon become the first city to block the sale of e-cigarettes, in an effort to crack down on vaping by kids. City leaders voted unanimously on Tuesday to ban the sale of the products in city limits, although the measure still requires final approval and there will be another vote.
Supporters of the measure want the FDA to review the effects of e-cigarettes on public health before the product goes on sale. They hope that by banning the sale of e-cigarettes, it will limit young people’s access to them — and they call teen vaping an epidemic. “Think of the health cost and think of what is going to happen to our youth,” said Vallie Brown, of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, at City Hall yesterday. “It is unacceptable.” “I am gravely concerned with the skyrocketing use of vaping products by youth,” added Supervisor Gordon Mar. “Companies like Juul have had three years to submit their product and marketing to the FDA,” said Supervisor Shamann Walton. “The question is, ‘why haven’t they?'” San Francisco City Attorney Dennis Herrera co-sponsored and drafted the legislation. He says cities and states are taking action because the FDA has “totally abdicated its responsibility to do the review that they should have done.” The FDA says that e-cigarette manufacturers must get their products approved by 2022. But the products are already for sale, and use by middle school students increased by more than 40% from 2017 to 2018.
San Francisco is just one of many cities taking action: The Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids notes that nearly 30 cities have banned menthol cigarettes and flavored tobacco products and their sales. “What we’re already seeing nationwide is real momentum to reign in the cigarette industry, particularly the flavors that have fueled the epidemic among kids,” said the group’s leader, Matthew Myers.
Juul Labs holds most of the e-cigarette market share. The company is fighting back by proposing a ballot initiative in San Francisco that it says would tighten youth access to tobacco products, but preserve access for adults. If passed, it would stop any ban from going into effect. Over a year ago, Juul administrator Ashley Gould told us the company had changed its marketing approach and did not mean to attract teens: “We know now,” she said. “We’re working very hard. And we are committed.” Juul also is the largest donor to the group Coalition for Reasonable Vaping Regulation, which said a ban would “open the floodgates to a black market” while leaving “cigarettes – the leading preventable cause of death — on the shelves.”
The coalition has enlisted the help of community organizers like San Francisco Rev. Floyd Trammell, who disagrees with the ban. When it comes to people 21 and older, Rev. Trammell said, “I think they should have the choice to choose what they want to do.”
Juul Labs said in a statement that it will continue to work to enact stronger regulation and enforcement rather than complete prohibition. The FDA won’t comment on pending legislation but says it’s committed to tackling the troubling epidemic of e-cigarette use among kids.
If the legislation passes a second vote, it will move to the mayor, who has previously been supportive. If the mayor signs the legislation, it would take six to seven months to take effect. Herrera said FDA approval might come through by then, which would mean that the bill wouldn’t have an impact — but because the FDA is moving too slowly, advocates say, cities and states need to step up now.