Grape flavored blunt wraps, peach cigarillos, hazelnut cigars, and menthol cigarettes — all of these and more could soon disappear from San Francisco’s corner store shelves if Supervisor Malia Cohen has her way.
On Tuesday, Cohen introduced a landmark tobacco control ordinance that specifically targets flavored tobacco products. Along with the negative health side-effects of smoking, research has shown that flavored tobacco products are disproportionately marketed to children, teenagers, African Americans, and LGBTQ people.
“45,000 African Americans die annually from tobacco-related diseases — more than police-involved shootings, homicides, AIDS, car accidents, diabetes; and all other preventable causes of death combined,” says Dr. Valerie Yerger of UCSF. “Why do over 80 percent of Black smokers smoke mentholated tobacco products? Since the Civil Rights Era, big tobacco companies have perniciously targeted the African-American community with mentholated tobacco products.”
Not only is racist marketing an issue, but the content of flavored tobacco products can be extra damaging to consumers. Menthol cigarettes decrease the metabolism of nicotine while increasing the amount of addictive substance in the blood. This makes them much harder to quit than unflavored tobacco.
“Flavored tobacco hooks new smokers and makes them lifelong users. This legislation will have a tremendous impact on the disturbing disparities for tobacco-related illnesses, and will reduce the number of new tobacco users that pick up the habit annually,” Cohen says.
If passed, the law would restrict the sale of any cigarettes, cigars, cigarillos, hookah tobacco, and e-products advertised as having a “characterizing flavor.” While stores would not be allowed to sell the products, it would still be legal to carry them on one’s person, so fans of honey cigarillos could still hop across to Oakland to stock up.
While tobacco products have a damaging effect on many people across the nation, in San Francisco it’s estimated that $380 million is spent each year on health care expenses related to tobacco use, as well as lost productivity at work.
The new law would not be the first of its kind introduced in the Bay Area — Berkeley has banned flavored tobacco products and e-cigarette sales near schools, and in Oct 2016, Santa Clara County restricted the sale of all flavored tobacco products (including menthol) — with an exemption for retailers only accessible to those 21 and older, like liquor stores.
If approved, enforcement of this law will kick in January of 2018.