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Bay Area reignites slow-burning fight over flavored tobacco & vaping juice ban

A variety of electronic cigarette flavors are viewed for sale.
A variety of electronic cigarette flavors are viewed for sale.
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A major tobacco company is pumping millions of dollars into a campaign to persuade San Francisco voters to reject a ban on selling flavored tobacco products, including menthol cigarettes, certain chewing tobaccos and vaping liquids with flavors like cotton candy, mango and cool cucumber.

R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co. has contributed nearly $12 million to the "No on Proposition E" campaign, filling television and radio airwaves and mailboxes with ads urging voters to reject a law supervisors approved last year that is now on the June 5 ballot. By comparison, ban supporters have raised $2.8 million, including more than $2 million from billionaire former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

Supporters say a ban would help stop another generation from getting hooked on nicotine, but critics point out that California already raised the smoking age to 21 and say a ban would only drive sales underground. San Francisco supervisors last year unanimously approved a ban on sales of flavored tobacco, saying the nicotine masked in flavors like mango, caramel and mint serve as starter products enticing kids to become smokers. Under the ordinance, smoke juices that taste like tobacco would still be allowed.

The ordinance was set to take effect in April but was put on hold after R.J. Reynolds collected enough signatures to put it on the ballot. Other cities have passed laws reducing access to flavored tobacco and flavored vaping liquids, but San Francisco was the first in the United States to approve an outright sales ban. It also was one of the first to ban indoor smoking in workplaces, bars and restaurants.

With files from the Associated Press.


John Maa, M.D., surgeon at Marin General Hospital outside San Francisco and president of the San Francisco Marin Medical Society; he co-authored an op-ed for CNN on the issue; he tweets @JohnMaaMD

Mark Kleiman, drug policy expert professor of public policy at New York University’s Marron Institute of Urban Management; he tweets @MarkARKleiman