Health organizations have long seen smoke and mirrors in the sale of candy-flavored blunts, e-cigarettes, and other flavored tobacco products, arguing that these are “starter” products the tobacco industry uses to get kids hooked on smoking. The San Francisco Board of Supervisors apparently agrees, and Tuesday night banned the sale of all flavored tobacco products — including menthol cigarettes — in the city of San Francisco.
When District 10 Supervisor Malia Cohen proposed the flavored tobacco ban back in April, it was slated to go into effect on January 1, 2018. The version that passed unanimously at Tuesday’s board meeting moves that date back to April 1, 2018, in a compromise move to the retailers and corner stores that would be affected. (According to the Examiner, there are 726 retail locations that sell tobacco in San Francisco.)
“Today, San Francisco sent a clear message that we need to do more to protect the health of our most vulnerable,” Supervisor Malia Cohen said in a news release. “Tobacco-related cancers lead all other cancer death rates in San Francisco, for both men and women. This legislation will reduce the number of new tobacco users that pick up the habit each year. The federal government continues to abdicate it responsibility to protect public health through its ongoing attempts to roll back health care access. It is the right and duty of states and localities to ensure that our communities are healthy, solvent, and safe.”
There are two sides to the economic impact of the menthol and flavored tobacco ban. The City Controller’s Office of Economic Analysis estimates that more than $50 million worth of menthols are sold in the city each year, so there’s certainly some economic and tax impact. (That figure only includes menthol cigarette sales, not any other forms of flavored tobacco.) On the other hand, Supervisor Cohen argues that tobacco costs San Francisco “$380 million per year in direct health care expenses and lost productivity.”
When the ban goes into effect, you’ll still be able to smoke menthols and flavored cigars, cigarillos, and vape products within San Francisco city limits. But no retail stores in San Francisco will be allowed to sell them, which may send some smokers on frequent trips to Oakland or Daly City.
Though the ban passed the Board of Supervisors unanimously Tuesday, it would still need to be signed by Mayor Lee before becoming law. Lee has indicated he will approve the ban.