San Francisco poised to become first U.S. city to ban e-cigs

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The city of San Francisco is expected to impose a blanket ban on e-cigarettes this week — that would make it the first American city to outlaw the sale, distribution and manufacturing of vaping products. 

The sweeping restriction would also put San Francisco at odds with one of its most prominent hometown startups, Juul Labs, which last Tuesday said it bought an office building in San Francisco — the same day the city board unanimously backed the e-cigarette ordinance in a preliminary vote. 

“We have always been a proud San Francisco-based company, and remain committed to serving the community as we focus on helping adult smokers switch from combustible cigarettes — the leading cause of preventable death — and combating underage use,” Juul Labs said in a statement last week.

The San Francisco board of supervisors will vote on the ordinance Tuesday, after which it will await mayor London Breed’s signature. It would take effect seven months later, and subject offending retailers to a $1,000 fine and other penalties. 

The ordinance doesn’t affect the local sale of cigarettes.

“San Francisco has never been afraid to lead,” City Attorney Dennis Herrera said in a statement after the city board voted to pass the e-cigarette legislation, adding the city was stepping in where the federal government had failed to protect its youth.

“E-cigarettes are a product that, by law, are not allowed on the market without FDA review. For some reason, the FDA has so far refused to follow the law. Now, youth vaping is an epidemic. If the federal government is not going to act to protect our kids, San Francisco will,” Herrera said. 

He encouraged Juul and other e-cigarette companies to take immediate action to prove that its products are a benefit to public health, “rather than a lure to addict another generation.”

Juul, which is 35% owned by tobacco company Altria, was spun off as a separate company from vaporizer maker Pax Labs in 2017. Juul had revenue of about $2 billion last year and its share of the fast-growing e-cig market is estimated at 72%. 

The company said in a statement to CBS MoneyWatch it has taken “the most aggressive actions in the industry” to prevent youths from using its tobacco and vapor products. Juul also called the vaping sales ban impractical: “The prohibition of vapor products for all adults in San Francisco will not effectively address underage use and will leave cigarettes on the shelves as the only choice for adult smokers, even though they kill 40,000 Californians every year.”

The company added that it supports stronger regulation and enforcement, but not “complete prohibition.”

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