Upholds a recent ordinance that bans the sale of flavored tobacco products in San Francisco.
What the Measure Would Do
This measure is a ballot referendum that would uphold an ordinance passed by the Board of Supervisors and signed by the mayor in 2017 to ban the sale of flavored tobacco products in San Francisco. The ordinance was due to take effect on April 1, 2018, but implementation is now on hold pending the results of the referendum.
In June 2017, the Board of Supervisors unanimously passed a citywide ban on the sale of flavored tobacco products such as menthol cigarettes, fruit-flavored vape liquids or any other type of tobacco product that has added flavoring. This new regulation was based on public health concerns that flavored tobacco is specifically targeted at youth and communities of color and aims to get people hooked on harmful tobacco products, which have major public health impacts.
Local merchants who sell flavored tobacco products and are concerned about losing revenue gathered signatures for a referendum petition and launched a repeal campaign. This campaign was supported by $700,000 from tobacco company R.J. Reynolds. The referendum petition required the Board of Supervisors to reconsider the ordinance in September 2017, at which point the board once again unanimously supported the ban. Following that vote, in accordance with San Francisco law, the question of whether the measure should be upheld or repealed was automatically added to the ballot as a referendum.
San Francisco is not the first jurisdiction in the Bay Area to ban flavored tobacco products. In 2015, Santa Clara County banned flavored tobacco products in unincorporated areas of the county except at stores restricted to adults over 21 years old. In January 2017, Berkeley banned their sale in areas near schools. More recently, both Oakland and San Leandro passed similar bans on sales of flavored tobacco. Additionally, the European Union, Brazil and multiple provinces in Canada have banned the sale of flavored tobacco.
- Tobacco companies design flavored tobacco products to soften the naturally harsh taste of tobacco, making it more likely for users of these products to become addicted. Higher levels of tobacco consumption lead to a well-documented decline in public health. A ban on flavored tobacco would likely lead to fewer San Franciscans — especially people of color and youth— developing tobacco-related diseases.
- The Board of Supervisors originally passed this ordinance after the normal process of committee consideration and deliberation. That process is a better venue for considering complex issues — including this one — than the process of putting them directly to voters.
- The ban would restrict the sale of a product that already can only be sold to adults. Many legal products have a negative public health impact, and it’s debatable whether it is the role of city government to restrict consumers’ access to them. As experience with alcohol prohibition has shown, a ban is not always an effective way to address the problem.
- The ban would reduce revenue for local merchants (particularly mom-and-pop corner stores) and, by extension, tax revenue to the state.
The city has a long-standing policy of trying to reduce tobacco consumption because of its negative impact on public health. Flavored tobacco offerings are especially detrimental as they are designed to encourage greater consumption and many are specifically marketed to youth. In light of this, the Board of Supervisors made a unanimous decision to ban the sale of these products within the city.
San Francisco’s ban goes beyond other efforts at dissuading harmful behavior, such as an education campaign or a tax, and should not be undertaken lightly. The impact of the ban should be monitored to ensure that it achieves its desired outcome. If new problems arise because of the ban, the Board of Supervisors would still have the ability to amend or repeal the ban to deal with them.
On balance, the potential positive public health impact of this ban outweighs the concerns about consumer choice or lost revenue for stores selling tobacco products.