Big Tobacco Gets Menthol Ban Repeal on the Ballot

Sup. Cohen’s ban on flavored tobacco may go up in smoke as R.J. Reynolds pours big bucks into repeal effort.

Mira Laing, SF Examiner

The tobacco lobby had just 30 days to get 20,000 signatures to try and overturn a ban on menthol cigarettes and flavored tobacco products that the San Francisco Board of Supervisors passed unanimously in June. According to the Department of Elections, they have successfully done just that. The flavored tobacco ban is now likely to face an up-or-down vote in a future San Francisco election.

How did they get 20,000 signatures so quickly? By paying signature-gatherers $5 per signature they collected, opponents note. So the San Francisco ban on flavored e-cigarettes, candy-flavored blunts, and other flavored tobacco products that was scheduled to go into effect April 1, 2018 is now looking shaky, and we’ve cigarette conglomerate R.J. Reynolds to thank for that.

According to CBS 5, the repeal effort ”is funded almost entirely by the R.J.  Reynolds Tobacco Company.” Under the guise of a campaign called Let’s Be Real San Francisco — which is not even based in San Francisco — the repeal has already collected $600,000, and that’s before the glossy election mailers and TV ads have even start coming.

“The government has definitely surpassed its boundary with this ordinance,” Let’s Be Real San Francisco spokesperson Jaime Rojas told CBS 5. “Adults have freedom of choice to make their decisions, and there’s already enough rules around tobacco products.”

This Let’s Be Real San Francisco spokesperson is based in Los Angeles.

Repeal of the flavored tobacco ban might even not make the ballot. The Board of Supervisors will now have to reconsider the ban. They are extremely unlikely to change their minds, considering they passed the menthol ban unanimously, with the ban’s author Sup. Malia Cohen insisting that “Flavored tobacco is disproportionately marketed to children and young adults, African Americans and LGBTQ people.” Contra Costa County also passed a flavored tobacco ban shortly after San Francisco did, and Oakland is also considering doing the same.

So let’s say the San Francisco supervisors hold their ground and refuse to vote the ban down. The ban would then go on a future San Francisco ballot, either at the June 2018 primary or for a special election. If it goes on the June primary, it faces the same voter dynamic of the 2016 soda tax that voters passed overwhelmingly despite massive corporate spending to defeat it.

But in a low-turnout special election, the big corporations with gigantic advertising budgets will likely have an advantage, and their repeal has a better chance to (puff and) pass.


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