San Francisco residents, on Tuesday, overwhelmingly voted to ban the sale of flavored tobacco products in the city, the San Francisco Chronicle reported. The ban will include selling flavored vaping products, menthol cigarettes, flavored hookah tobacco, and infused cigars. Nearly 70% of San Francisco voters favored the ban, which Politico described as the “toughest-in-the-nation city law.”
Big Tobacco company R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company funded the Proposition E ballot measure, after city board supervisors pushed to approve a citywide ban last year, according to NPR. The company funneled at least $12 million into a campaign against the ban. On the other hand, supporters of the ban raised almost $3 million, including a $2 million donation from former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who pushed for various measures against cigarettes during his time as mayor.
“Tobacco products are flavored to taste like candy, fruit, chocolate, vanilla, honey, cocoa, menthol, mint, wintergreen, herb, or spice and many of the packages are designed to look exactly like popular kids candies like Sour Patch kids, Jolly Ranchers and Gummy Bears,” advocates of the ban argued in an appeal to voters. According to Jim Knox, who manages the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network in California, the ban in San Francisco has the potential to create a trend in other cities across the country. “What happens in San Francisco often doesn’t stay in San Francisco,” Knox said.
However, it wasn’t just Big Tobacco that opposed the strict ban on flavored products. Some residents of the city pointed to the ways an all-out ban can be dangerous. “It’s disappointing that a majority of voters in San Francisco came to the conclusion that the best way to address an issue of concern, such as underage tobacco use, is a return to the policy of prohibition,” said Carlos Solórzano, CEO of the Hispanic Chambers of Commerce of San Francisco, according to Politico.
People will always find a way to access the products they want, argued San Francisco resident Donna Anderson, as reported by NPR. Black markets will often fill the void of prohibition and arguments have been made about the tendency of such bans to hurt people of color the most. The banning of marijuana, for example, led to a vicious “war on drugs” resulting in mass incarceration.
“You’re just driving sales underground,” said Anderson, who pointed to marijuana as an example of how underground markets target communities of color. “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 said.