San Francisco Flavor Ban Hearing
I am a resident of San Francisco and on Tuesday Sept. 5th, 2017 I attended the San Francisco Board of Supervisors (BOS) hearing, including public comment; the agenda included BOS File No. 170441.
I’ll quote the whole BOS file text:
“Existing Law Federal law bans the manufacture of cigarettes with characterizing flavors, other than the flavor of menthol and tobacco. Federal law does not ban the manufacture of menthol cigarettes or flavored tobacco products other than cigarettes.
Purpose of Ordinance: Prohibits the sale or distribution by an Establishment of any flavored cigarette or tobacco product. Does not criminalize possession of such products.
Amendments to Current Law: The proposed ordinance amends the Health Code to prohibit local tobacco retailers from selling flavored tobacco products. The tobacco products that would be subject to the prohibition on sale would include, but not be limited to, flavored cigarettes, including menthol cigarettes, flavored cigars, flavored smokeless tobacco, flavored shisha, and flavored nicotine solutions that are used in electronic cigarettes. The ordinance defines a flavored tobacco product as a tobacco product that contains a constituent that imparts a characterizing flavor. The ordinance would create a presumption that a tobacco product is flavored if the tobacco manufacturer makes a statement or claim that the product has a characterizing flavor. For example, if the packaging in which a tobacco product is sold is printed with the word “grape” or with an image of grapes, the tobacco product would be presumed to be flavored, and subject to the restriction on sale.”
The proposal passed unanimously and swiftly after the close of public comment, with much glee and self congratulation. My understanding is that the proposal was not open to amendment or revision in any way - it couldn’t be edited, but I lack the insight to comment on why this was the case. The BOS had either to accept the entirety of the language, or reject the entire proposal, including an inability to revisit it again anytime in the near future (or something like that - again, I’m a little murky on the what the procedural constraints were in this instance).
Needless to say, anyone with a basic understanding of vaping and the vape industry is likely distressed by the inclusion of the language “...and flavored nicotine solutions that are used in electronic cigarettes.” The severe conflation of adding this language to the proposal, and then not allowing for a pragmatic mechanism for the BOS to remove it, is pretty gross. Grosser than nicotine (/sarcasm alert).
So I prepared a few remarks and headed off to City Hall.
The meeting began at 2pm, I arrived 10 minutes early and introduced myself to activist Stefan Didak. Stefan is very active in vape activism, especially in California, and is also active in social media. You can Google ‘Stefan Didak’ to learn more if you’re not familiar with him. I was very pleased to meet him: thanks Stefan!
I believe BOS got to our item around 5pm and I queued up in line behind the podium with perhaps 15 other members of the public for my 2 minutes (mandated hard stop) at the microphone. Perhaps half of these folks were in favor of the proposal and worked for groups like the California Department of Public Health, the American Cancer Society, etc. No real surprise here since it’s the CDPH that is responsible for much of the appalling data misuse and spinning that is accumulating regarding vaping.
Anyway, public comment barely registered as BOS had clearly already come to a conclusion beforehand, and prior to public comment the items sponsor, Malia Cohen, set the tone and posture of the BOS with a jumbled rant conflating issues ranging from the Surgeon General’s warning and the settled science of the health dangers of cigarette smoking, to the perceived or postured stance of the BOS that Big Tobacco is the financial backer of anyone opposing this proposal, to slippery slope claims about marketing to children, and finally a bizarre insinuation that even Donald Trump and some of the President’s supporters are somehow linked to all of this. She made it pretty clear she was fairly contemptuous of anyone opposing the proposal. 2 other members of the Board followed her with comments similar in tone.
Take it away Public!
Stefan Didak had his 2 minutes with a few prepared bullet points delivered by an enthusiastic and righteous seasoned activist. The daughter of a bodega/corner store made her appeal on the harms to small business (as there is certainly a not insubstantial component of small business bullying engaged in here by the public’s representatives).
I believe an active Vapor or two threw in their two cents.
Honestly, I wasn’t listening too closely at this point - I’m guilty of kind of tunnel vision when I speak publicly where I am gathering my thoughts and composure about what I am going to say.
For my two minutes I kept to standard evidence based talking points (Royal College of Physicians, eLiquid ingredients, caffeine as the best comp for nicotine, the marvels of vape industry technology innovation for nicotine delivery, etc.)
I imagine, but don’t know, that what I and other vape proponents said went in each Supervisor’s ear and right out the other. The language of the proposal is so muddled and such an exercise in murky thinking that there isn’t any reason to conclude the BOS was interested in considering anything new on this day.
The number of vape stakeholders attending was unfortunately not large, it was a very small minority of the room. My accumulated observations past and present are that the only way to get the attention of these government authorities is large public turnout (this was in fact the case with a couple of other proposals on the agenda earlier in the afternoon). Something to keep in mind.
Just wanted to pass along these few thoughts while they are still fresh for anyone who my find them interesting or useful in any way.