News, Culture & Society

San Francisco pushes to ban flavored tobacco that makes an easy gateway for teenage smokers

San Francisco is considering a ban on selling flavored tobacco products including menthol cigarettes and vaping liquids with flavors.

Supporters say the ban would help stop another generation from getting hooked on nicotine – raising the risk of cardiovascular disease, several cancers and death. 

RJ Reynolds Tobacco Co has contributed nearly $12million to the ‘No on Proposition E’ campaign, flooding the city with ads on television, radio and online that urge voters to reject the law on the June 5 ballot.

By comparison, ban supporters have raised just $2.8million, including more than $2million from billionaire and former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

San Francisco is considering a ban on selling flavored tobacco products including menthol cigarettes and vaping liquids with flavors, considered a gateway for teen smokers

Last year, San Francisco approved a ban on sales of flavored tobacco, saying the nicotine masked in flavors like mango, caramel and mint serve as starter products hat entice kids to become smokers.

The latest report from the CDC shows that 20 percent of high school students have used at least one tobacco product recently, mostly e-cigarettes.

And while both smoking and vaping rates have declined, the survey found that 11 percent of high school students had used an e-cigarette in the past 30 days.

Under the ordinance, e-cigarette liquids that taste like tobacco would still be allowed.

The ordinance was set to take effect in April but was put on hold after RJ Reynolds collected enough signatures to put it on the ballot. 

Other cities have passed laws reducing access to flavored tobacco and flavored vaping liquids, but San Francisco was the first in the US to approve an outright sales ban. 

It also was one of the first to ban indoor smoking in workplaces, bars and restaurants.

The spending by Big Tobacco shows the industry fears a flavored nicotine ban in The Golden City could become a national trend, said Matthew Myers of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, which supports the ban.


E-cigarette flavors could be toxic to human cells, a new study has found.

Researchers at the University of North Carolina said many of the liquids contain dangerous chemicals, which give the products their flavor.

Two main ingredients, vegetable glycerin and propylene glycol, are both damaging to human cells.

The team sampled 148 e-liquids out of a possible 7,700 currently on the market.

Using large plastic plates, they exposed fast-growing human cells to the various e-liquids.

They found that those cells slowed their growth when exposed to the liquids. 

The lower the growth, the more toxic the liquid, according to the researchers. 

The maker of Newport, the top-selling menthol brand in the country, also sells e-cigarettes. 

Health experts say the mint in cigarettes helps to coat the throat and eases the harshness of tobacco smoke, making it easier to become addicted.

Ads from the ‘No on Proposition E’ campaign – running in English, Spanish, Mandarin and Cantonese – say San Francisco’s ban on flavored tobacco is similar to prohibition and would lead to a black market for vape products.

Small-business owners also oppose the ban, which they say will hurt business because people can still buy flavored ‘e-liquid’ and tobacco products in neighboring cities or online.

Miriam Zouzounis, a board member of the Arab American Grocers Association, which represents 400 small-business owners in the San Francisco Bay Area, said the ban would remove an anchor product that attracts customers, many of which are immigrant-owned.

‘If we don’t have our customer’s winter green chewing tobacco, he won’t come in and buy the food or drink or other products that keep our doors open,’ Zouzounis said.

Dr Pamela Ling, a professor of medicine at the University of California, San Francisco, who studies how tobacco is marketed to young people, said that while smoking has decreased among teenagers, e-cigarette use is increasing.

She says this in part because of flavored nicotine products and novel vaping devices, including one made by San Francisco-based JUUL that looks like a thumb drive.

‘A lot of kids wouldn’t necessarily smoke a cigarette, but if you hand them a little JUUL or a vape and you tell them it tastes like cookies-and-cream or creme brûlée, they will try it out of curiosity,’ Dr Ling said.

Dr Ling said there are thousands of nicotine-laced liquid flavors that are attractive to kids and teenagers, who often don’t know they are inhaling the stimulant, which is considered harmful to the developing teenage brain.

‘You can buy the flavored tobacco product at any corner store, and it’s just so easy and so accessible,’ Dr Ling said. ‘At least banning the products that are most appealing to kids would give parents a fighting chance.’

Zouzounis, whose family has owned a small store in San Francisco’s South of Market neighborhood for three generations, said vaping stores and Hookah lounges will have to close their doors if the ban is upheld.

San Francisco politicians ‘are talking about having safe injection sites for drug users, they legalized marijuana, but they want to take away an already heavily regulated product out of the market?’ she said, noting the age limit on tobacco buyers, plus the license and fees required to sell tobacco. ‘It just doesn’t make sense.’