San Francisco bans e-cigarette sales, becoming the first US city to do so

Health, Fitness & Food

A person uses a Juul Labs electronic cigarette device in San Francisco, on Monday, June 24, 2019.

David Paul Morris | Bloomberg | Getty Images

San Francisco on Tuesday became the first city in the country to ban e-cigarettes after city officials approved an ordinance that prohibits selling nicotine pods or devices that haven’t been approved by the Food and Drug Administration.

City supervisors last week voted unanimously 11 to 0 in favor of the measure. San Francisco’s rules require two votes in order for an ordinance to be finalized.

“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,” San Francisco mayor London Breed said in a statement.

“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.”

Federal regulators are trying to combat what they’re calling an “epidemic” of teen vaping while local governments pursue their own actions, including banning flavors like bubble gum and fruit punch. San Francisco outlawing e-cigarettes altogether marks a harsh rebuke of the industry, particularly market leader Juul, which is headquartered in the city.

The company said it shares city officials’ goal “to keep tobacco and favor products out of the hands of anyone under 21,” “but the prohibition of vapor products for all adults in San Francisco will not effectively address underage use.” Juul says it already has the required signatures to take the ban to the ballot in November in hopes of overriding the ordinance.

In a statement on Tuesday, Juul said the ban would “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.” 

E-cigarettes are positioned as less harmful ways for smokers to get their nicotine fix than smoking cigarettes. However, these products appear to be incredibly popular among teenagers. Federal data published last fall showed e-cigarette use among high school students surged 78% in 2018, prompting the FDA to propose restricting where fruity flavors can be sold.

All e-cigarettes currently on the market will eventually need to undergo FDA review. The agency earlier this year also proposed moving up the deadline to 2021 from 2022, though a judge presiding over a lawsuit from public groups could force the FDA to start taking those applications sooner.

San Francisco’s ordinance bans any e-cigarette that hasn’t received FDA clearance, effectively banning all e-cigarettes since none have to date. City officials also on Tuesday passed an ordinance prohibiting the sale, manufacturing and distribution of tobacco products, including e-cigarettes, on city property. San Francisco already prohibits tobacco companies from doing business on city property.

Juul and city officials have sparred over the e-cigarette giant’s presence in San Francisco. The city owns the land Juul operates its headquarters on, much to the dismay of some who want the city to kick the company out. Juul last week bought a building in downtown San Francisco, though it said it would continue to work out of the disputed space as well.

Juul spent $665,239 lobbying against the two ordinances in April and May, according to public records.

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