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San Francisco Votes to Ban Flavored E-Liquids

San Francisco Votes to Ban Flavored E-Liquids


San Francisco Votes to Ban Flavored E-Liquids

In a highly-anticipated June 5 vote, the city of San Francisco approved a proposition banning all flavored tobacco products, menthol cigarettes, and flavored e-liquids from being sold within city limits. This is a major blow to the local vapor community and industry, and the move could have major implications for other cities around California or even nationwide in the months and years to come.

The vote can be traced back to a city ordinance passed last July - following a ban passed by the city council, enough signatures were gathered to challenge the action, and Proposition E was added to Tuesday’s vote. For the last few months, the proposition garnered attention from various political groups in an effort to sway the vote. In the end, though, the ban was reaffirmed by voters in an overwhelming 68 percent to 31 percent margin.  

The argument at the heart of the campaign is a small encapsulation of the political discourse surrounding vapor in 2018. On the pro-vapor side, vape shops and vapor companies stood in opposition to the bill because flavored e-liquids are one of the most enjoyable and popular ways for long term smokers to quit. On the anti-vapor side, they argued that flavored e-liquid specifically targeted younger and vulnerable populations.

Vapor advocates have long argued against this criticism, saying that flavored e-liquid has made it easier for adults to quit combustible cigarettes (numerous informal studies have supported this theory), and that the government has no right to regulate products that make the hobby more enjoyable. In the wake of the vote Greg Conley, president of the American Vaping Association, expressed his disappointment at the results.  

"It is a travesty that anti-vaping extremists would mislead SF voters into making it harder for adult smokers to quit," he said, according to a CNN report, reminding again that flavored products are helpful to smokers who are trying to quit.

An interesting aspect of this story was the amount of money and influence peddling involved in the campaign leading up to the vote. R.J. Reynolds, a Big Tobacco player and also parent of the vapor brand Vuse, spent a whopping $12 million to fight against the measure, while former Mayor of New York City and billionaire philanthropist Mike Bloomberg spent $3 million backing it.

Lobbying by outside interests, including Big Tobacco companies, on behalf of vapor issues, has led to opponents of vapor equating the interests of vapor companies with the interests of Big Tobacco, further muddying the waters when it comes to efforts to differentiate between tobacco and vapor. While the cash infusion from Big Tobacco companies may have helped get the vapor industry's message out, the optics surely undercut a common argument made by vapor advocates, that the vapor industry is opposed to and completely separate from Big Tobacco.

"People really have a big dislike and big distrust for Big Tobacco companies and are not fooled by propaganda and tactics," said Gil Duran, the spokesman for Campaign Yes on Proposition E.

Framing this matter simply in terms of big-moneyed interests, however, overlooks the people that will most immediately be impacted by the ban: the corner store small businesses that sell vapor products, and the San Francisco vapers who will no longer have access to their favorite flavors. Looking forward, it will be interesting to see how this vote affects vapor laws overall in California state-wide.