San Francisco’s board of supervisors voted June 25 to suspend the sale of all vape products in the city until the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) completes a review of vaping’s human health impacts – a move that serves JUUL Labs a heaping plate of irony as well as a clear message that its presence in the city is unwanted.
But the world’s largest vape maker will use its almost limitless political clout to undermine the city’s ordinance with a November ballot measure that would kill the city’s unanimous (11-0) vote. JUUL has already acquired the 9,500 signatures it needs to make it on the ballot with proposed measures that would clobber the city’s vape ban before it takes effect in December.
“We have preserved access to a ballot measure on an upcoming San Francisco election and have the required signatures to move forward and ensure that underage access and use is addressed comprehensively, but adults aren’t driven back to cigarettes, which kill 40,000 Californians a year,” JUUL spokesman Ted Kwong told Forbes.
JUUL’s ballot measure stands a good chance of passing because it masquerades as a proposal to ensure that consumers younger than 21 can’t buy vape products. The San Francisco Examiner says the measure is “titled in a wonderful Orwellian fashion: ‘An Act to Prevent Youth Use of Vapor Products.’”
Matt Myers, president of the advocacy group Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, told Forbes that JUUL’s ballot measure is “one of the most misleading ballot measures [he’s] ever read.” He notes that the “extraordinarily, deceptively written” measure takes a page directly from Big Tobacco’s playbook.
That shouldn’t be surprising since Altria, the biggest of the Big Tobacco corporations, bought a 35% stake in JUUL, boosting the vape maker’s valuation to $38 billion and giving it access to Altria’s vast political resources.
Altria is currently backing “Tobacco to 21” bills floating on Capitol Hill that call for raising the legal age to buy cigarettes to 21. Those measures, some of which have the backing of Big Tobacco ally Mitch McConnell, are really designed to protect industry profits even though on the surface they appear to be aimed at defending youth.
JUUL’s San Francisco ballot measure is the same thing. Mr. Myers called it a “Trojan horse,” adding that “the language of the referendum is inconsistent with [JUUL’s] rhetoric,” according to Forbes. He said that if San Francisco voters vote in favor of JUUL’s measure, the vape and flavored tobacco bans would be repealed, and future tobacco-control measures by San Francisco would be restricted.
Cigarette manufacturers have argued for half a century that the only authority governments should have in restricting tobacco is to raise the age of sale, knowing that raising the legal age has done very little to prevent teens from smoking. Conceding the legal age matter and even advocating for it puts cigarette and vape manufacturers in a strong position to effectively limit and dismantle the more effective regulations.
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