02 Jul

San Francisco becomes first US city to ban sale of e-cigarettes

San Francisco voted to ban e-cigarettes in the first legislation of its kind in the United States

Supervisors approved a measure banning the sale and distribution of e-cigarettes in an effort to curb the rise of youth vaping. The measure will now go for final approval to San Francisco’s mayor, London Breed, who said she will sign the legislation, and stores in the city will be required to remove e-cigarettes from their shelves after the change goes into effect in seven months.

However, it will still be legal to purchase traditional cigarettes and marijuana products, including vapes for cannabis, in the city of San Francisco.

After decades of decline in youth cigarette smoking, the rise of vaping has led to a major boost in nicotine use for people under the age of 21. More than 4.9 million American teens used e-cigarettes in 2018, an increase of 1.5 million teens in just one year.

San Francisco is home to Juul, with more than a 50% share of the market making it the biggest producer of e-cigarettes in the country. Juul markets itself as a smoking alternative for adults seeking to quit, but the San Francisco supervisor Shamann Walton, who co-authored the legislation, sees it as a continuation of big tobacco.

“We spent a few decades fighting big tobacco in the form of cigarettes,” Walton said. “Now we have to do it again in the form of e-cigarettes.”

Juul has continued to expand its headquarters, announcing the purchase of a new 29-story skyscraper to accommodate its “rapidly growing team” on the same day the e-cigarette ban first passed the committee.

A spokesman from Juul told the Guardian the company will continue to push back against the legislation and is reportedly developing a ballot measure in November to keep e-cigarettes available for purchase.

Juul and other advocates for vaping say the ban could result in more adults smoking cigarettes. “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,” spokesman Ted Kwong said.

Juul has taken some measures to prevent young people from taking up vaping , including banning the sale of flavored pods and restricting bulk purchases to prevent sharing products.

Purveyors of Juuls, including vape shops and corner stores, have expressed outrage at the impact of the decision on small businesses in the city. Some argued that stores in Oakland and Daly City, just across the Bay, stand to see major profits from the decision as people travel to get nicotine products.

While the ban on e-cigarettes is clearly a blow to Juul, it is also a gesture directed at the US Food and Drug Administration, which has been slow to legislate the devices despite their explosion in popularity in recent years.

In December 2018, the US surgeon general issued an advisory calling youth vaping an “epidemic”.

“San Francisco is taking action to protect our kids,” the San Francisco city attorney, Dennis Herrera, said in a statement regarding the legislation. “This temporary moratorium wouldn’t be necessary if the federal government had done its job.”