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San Francisco bans sale of e-cigarettes

By LIU YINMENG in Los Angeles | China Daily Global | Updated: 2019-06-27 00:25
Two men vape from electronic cigarettes in San Francisco, June 17, 2019. [Photo/IC]

Through a landmark decision at a Board of Supervisors meeting on Tuesday, San Francisco became the nation's first city to ban the sale of e-cigarettes.

The supervisors approved the second and final reading of a measure that prohibits the sale of electronic cigarettes and flavored tobacco products that have not received FDA approval for their marketing, a decision its proponents say will combat the epidemic of youth vaping.

Along with the e-cigarette sale ban, the supervisors also passed a measure that prohibits the sale, manufacture and distribution of tobacco products on city property.

The ordinance will be sent to Mayor London Breed's office for signing. The mayor has 10 days to either sign or not sign it.

"I support the legislation authored by City Attorney Dennis Herrera and Supervisor Shamann Walton to suspend the sale of e-cigarettes in San Francisco until the Food and Drug Administration concludes a review of the impacts of vaping on public health," Breed said in a statement Tuesday.

"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," she added.

The measure will become effective 30 days after signing. However, it will take another six months for the measure to be fully-implemented.

What's ironic about the vote is that San Francisco is the home of leading electronic-cigarette maker Juul, which announced on June 18 the purchase of the 123 Mission Street building in the city as additional office space, the same day that the Board of Supervisors passed the first reading of the bans.

Responding to the passage of the measure, Ted Kwong, a spokesman for Juul, said the bans will drive adult smokers back to cigarettes by making an alternative option less accessible.

"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," Kwong said.

"We have already taken the most aggressive actions in the industry to keep our products out of the hands of those underage and are taking steps to do more," he added.

The company is preparing its own ballot initiative, which would "enact stronger regulation and enforcement rather than prohibition," Kwong said.

The initiative includes such proposals as a requirement for retailers to use electronic scanning technology to verify the buyers' information. It would also prohibit the marketing of vapor products to minors.

Kwong told China Daily that the company has the required signatures to put the initiative on the ballot for the upcoming November election, but it was "preserving all options".

In a previous interview, Supervisor Shamann Walton, a main sponsor for the measure, said that many of Juul's proposed regulations are already in place in the city.

If voters approve Juul's proposal, the supervisors' e-cigarette sale ban could be rendered unenforceable, some insiders said.

Dr. Bonnie Halpern-Felsher, a professor of pediatrics at Stanford University and the founder and executive director of Tobacco Prevention Toolkit, an online curricular aimed at reducing and preventing tobacco use among youths, said the vote will send a clear message to e-cigarette companies to be compliant with the FDA regulations and for the FDA to enforce their laws. 

The point of the decision was to restrict the sale of e-cigarettes in San Francisco until the e-cigarette companies take the proper steps to submit a pre-market application to the FDA for authorization, she said.

According to the 2016 FDA Deeming Rule, all e-cigarette companies must submit this application for review. Since this was not done, the marketing and sales of e-cigarettes is essentially not allowed. 

"While adult cigarette smokers switching to exclusive adult e-cigarette use may be safer, e-cigarettes are still not safe," Halpern-Felsher said. "There are numerous studies showing the effects of vaping on cardiovascular and lung health.  

"My concern is with youth," she added. "Youth aren't initiating tobacco use through cigarettes, but through e-cigarettes.  So the comparison for youth isn't e-cigarettes vs cigarettes, but e-cigarettes vs no tobacco use."

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