We elected the Board of Supervisors to address these real problems, not to enact “press releases policies” that merely give the appearance of a solution. Instead of solving problems like homelessness, affordable housing, gentrification, traffic congestion, and car break-ins; they’ve given us this New Prohibition and patted themselves on the back.
We all want to keep tobacco out of the hands of kids, but instead of banning adult choices, the real solution is to actually enforce the new Age 21 law, punish retailers and other sources who violate the law, and focus the millions of dollars the City and County receives for youth tobacco education to actually educating our kids on the harms of tobacco use. These solutions don’t carry the unintended consequences of a ban.
In 2016, San Franciscans overwhelmingly recognized that the government’s longstanding War on Pot was a failure when they voted—by a wider margin than anywhere else in the state—to legalize recreational marijuana. That’s because history tells us, and San Franciscans understand, that bans on adult products do not work and inevitably create a host of unintended consequences.
If San Francisco bans menthol cigarettes, hookah tobacco, most vaping liquids, and all other tobacco products that they have deemed to contain a characterizing flavor, an underground economy will likely emerge—just as it did during the failed war on drugs and during Prohibition. History and common-sense tells us that removing these products from corner stores, which are licensed and regulated, will push sales to the street—where anyone, including people who are underage, will be able to buy them. Let’s be real. The person selling packs behind the store or out of the trunk won’t check ID. This will draw more law-enforcement into communities where these illegal sales are occurring, which only increases the likelihood of unnecessary interactions with the police.
It seems the Board didn’t even care that these products would fall within their ban on the sale of tobacco with a characterizing flavor. The Board already effectively shut down all of San Francisco’s hookah lounges when they chose not to exempt them from their indoor smoking ban, unlike many other cities. It is remarkably insensitive for City Hall to include a ban on hookah tobacco in their latest Prohibition. Given the many challenges faced by immigrant communities these days, it’s hard to believe that even San Francisco is making it more challenging to maintain cultural traditions.
Who would think that San Francisco, of all places, would intentionally target and ban the tobacco products most preferred by minority communities, while the most popular tobacco products will remain legal in the City. That’s what this ban does, it targets the choices of adult menthol and shisha tobacco consumers.
A study by the City’s own Office of Economic Analysis estimated that the ban would have a “material impact on the City’s economy.” San Franciscans with ready access to transportation or the internet will still be able to get the products they want from neighboring cities or online. The lost revenue and direct harm to neighborhood corner stores in the City will mean fewer job opportunities, higher prices, and reduced services. In neighborhoods where major grocery chains won’t build, residents will have even fewer food options.
There’s more and more evidence that points to vaping as a potentially less harmful alternative to cigarette smoking. But nearly all vaping products are flavored and would fall under the Board’s ban. Studies have shown that smokers looking to quit prefer flavored vaping products in order to distance themselves from the tobacco experience. Plus it’s already unlawful in the City to sell vaping products to anyone under 21.