San Francisco could become the first city in the nation to ban flavored tobacco products from all store shelves. The ban includes everything from candy-flavored e-cigarettes to conventional menthol smokes.
City supervisors last year unanimously approved a ban on the products, but the tobacco industry funded a referendum, Proposition E, to put the issue before voters instead. San Francisco residents will decide in the June 5 election whether the ordinance goes into effect.
More than $11 million aimed at defeating it
The R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co. is blanketing the city with ads — on the radio, television, online and via direct mail — urging a “no” vote on Proposition E. The latest campaign finance contributions show that the tobacco giant, which produces Newport menthols, the country’s best-selling mint-flavored cigarette, has contributed more than $11 million to the “No on E” campaign in San Francisco.
On the other side, former New York City mayor and billionaire Michael Bloomberg has contributed $1.3 million to the campaign for Yes on Proposition E.
Some of the anti-E ads feature vintage film clips of people smashing kegs during Prohibition and argue that approach didn’t stop the use of alcohol and drugs and won’t work for flavored tobacco, either.
San Francisco resident Donna Anderson agrees. Though she doesn’t smoke herself, she protested on behalf of the No on E campaign during a recent rally near San Francisco’s City Hall.
“You’re just driving sales underground,” Anderson says. “It will not stop people from accessing what they want or using what they want.”
She uses the example of marijuana laws to illustrate how a black market can hurt people of color the most.
“Black people, Latino people — people have been locked up, and are still locked up, having to do with little more than an ounce of marijuana,” she says.
At the Mission Smoke Shop, Sam Azar has plastered the walls of his store with “No-on-E” signs.
“It’s going to hurt me as a small business here in the city by — like 30 percent or more,” Azar predicts.
The law would eliminate his profits from sales of flavored pipe tobacco, flavored hookah, infused cigars and the syrupy vape juices that line numerous racks. There are more than 7,000 sweet and savory e-cigarette flavors on the market — flavors that include Gummi Bear, Unicorn Milk, Red Bull and Nat-Cho Cheese.
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