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Juul-backed ballot measure may repeal SF’s flavored e-cigarette ban

Juul-backed ballot measure may repeal SF's flavored e-cigarette ban

The ballot measure will go before voters on Nov. 5

juul

By Catherine Ho - San Francisco Chronicle 

A San Francisco ballot measure authored by e-cigarette maker Juulmay allow flavored e-cigarettes back onto store shelves in San Francisco — overturning a city law approved by voters in 2018 that was meant to keep products like Juul’s mango and cucumber nicotine pods out of the hands of teens.

The ballot measure, which will go before voters on Nov. 5, may repeal the 2018 ban, the city’s Ballot Simplification Committee said this week. The committee, part of the Department of Elections, is an obscure but important body made up of volunteers who condense ballot measure language into a summary for the voter guide.

Juul Chief Administrative Officer Ashley Gould on Tuesday submitted an affidavit saying the ballot measure was “never intended” to overturn the flavor ban, and that the ban would remain in place if the ballot measure passes.

The company, headquartered at Pier 70 in San Francisco, says its goal is to void the city’s ban on the sale of all e-cigarettes, which the Board of Supervisors unanimously approved in June.

That June ban goes beyond the 2018 ballot measure by barring vapes with no flavoring other than the tobacco they contain. The June ban is meant to last only until the U.S. Food and Drug Administration reviews the products. E-cigarette companies must apply for the review by 2020.

Juul says that the blanket ban on all e-cigarette sales harms adults who want to kick their cigarette habit by turning to vapes, which are widely seen as less harmful — though they cause more harm than not smoking at all.

Juul has spent about $4.3 million on attorneys, consultants and other firms to promote the ballot initiative, according to reports filed with the San Francisco Ethics Commission. The coalition opposing Juul’s measure — health groups including the American Heart Association and Tobacco-Free Kids — has not yet reported spending figures to the commission.

Both Juul and the opposing coalition are appealing the committee’s decision.

Juul is asking the committee to either delete the mention of the flavor ban altogether, or explicitly state the ballot measure will not repeal the flavor ban.

The opposing coalition is asking the committee to make it clearer that voting “yes” on the initiative means overturning current city law suspending the sale of e-cigarettes.

Juul’s Gould said the company would amend the original language of the ballot measure to explicitly say it would not overturn the flavor ban, if it could. But once a ballot measure is submitted to the Department of Elections, it cannot be changed because that is the language that voters signed their names onto.

The language of the ballot initiative says it is intended to “comprehensively authorize and regulate the retail sale, availability and marketing” of e-cigarettes in the city, and that its provisions “may only be amended by a vote of the people.” Attorneys and tobacco control advocates who have reviewed the language say this is code for Juul trying to rewrite the city’s rules on e-cigarettes and strip the Board of Supervisors’ authority to regulate the products.

The ballot measure would enact some new regulations on e-cigarette sales, including limits to how many can be bought in a single transaction and new age verification technology for stores to ensure buyers are at least 21 years old, California’s legal age to buy tobacco, including e-cigarettes.

Tuesday’s meeting marked an escalation of tensions between Juul, which is under fire from federal regulators and Congress for having marketed to youth in the past, and two of its most vocal local foes — city officials and tobacco control advocates.

Supervisor Shamann Walton, who co-authored the June legislation to ban all e-cigarette sales, appeared before the committee and accused vape companies of adopting Big Tobacco tactics and “shamefully” enticing children with fruity flavors and sleek devices. He wants the language in the voter guide to say as much. Juul agreed last year to sell a 35% stake in the company to Altria, the parent company of Philip Morris, for $12.8 billion.

Walton said he would like the opening paragraph of the voter guide summary on the ballot initiative to read: “Big Tobacco’s ballot measure is a smoke screen to overturn laws and legislation passed by the people of San Francisco and unanimously passed by the Board of Supervisors to protect young people from the continued harms of Big Tobacco.”

Juul representatives, sitting several feet away, scoffed.

Catherine Ho is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer. Email:  Twitter: @Cat_Ho

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