One of the hardest fights for US vaping advocates recently has been in San Francisco. Since the city’s Board of Supervisors approved a total ban on flavoured tobacco products last year, and made clear that it would also apply to e-liquids, advocacy and business groups have been mobilising to fight the move. The campaign attracted substantial – and sometimes controversial – funding on both sides, with tobacco company RJ Reynolds and former New York mayor Michael Bloomberg both making large donations.
The battle ended yesterday, when San Franciscans voted on the latest raft of proposals heaped on them by the notoriously interventionist Board of Supervisors. The result was a solid endorsement for Proposition E; more than 147,000 people voted on the measure, and 68.41% of them supported it.
Once the new law comes into effect it will be illegal to sell any tobacco product that includes “characterising flavours”, which means any flavour except tobacco. A main target of the ban is menthol cigarettes, which are favoured by African-Americans, but supporters have also played up the alleged risk of young people being “lured into nicotine addiction” by “candy and bubblegum-flavoured” vapour products.
Any violations of the ban can be punished by suspension of tobacco sales licenses, with up to a 90-day suspension for a first offence rising to a year for the third. The city’s own analysis says that the measure is likely to lead to a fall in tobacco tax revenue as smokers and vapers buy products outside San Francisco. However this is likely to become more difficult, as San Mateo County – which occupies most of the San Francisco Peninsula outside the city itself – voted in a similar ban yesterday.
The real worry for vapers is that bans like this will now spread as local governments, emboldened by San Francisco’s move, push for more restrictions. Chicago is just one of the cities that is already looking at a similar law.