Activists Pushing Ban On Vape Flavors Tell Supporters To Mislead Voters

Steve Birr | Vice Reporter

Activists fighting to uphold what they call an “absolutely bombproof ban” on flavored nicotine and tobacco products are urging supporters to avoid calling it a ban when speaking with voters.

The San Francisco Board of Supervisors passed a ban on menthol cigarettes and flavored vaping products in the city in June 2017 to the ire of small business owners and harm reduction advocates. Officials were forced to return to the issue in September, however, after a coalition of small businesses submitted a petition with 33,941 signatures to the board. The contentious ordinance, dubbed Proposition E, will now be determined by an upcoming ballot vote scheduled for June 5.

In an effort to save the ban from popular backlash, supporters are choosing to actively mislead voters. Instead of using the word ban when discussing the law with city residents, activists are instead encouraged to use phrases like, “end the sale,” “uphold the ordinance,” and “protect our children.”

The American Vaping Association, a trade group advocating for harm reduction technologies, noted that supporters of Proposition E posted photos on Twitter that included a board labeled, TALKING POINTS, which instructs campaigners on the more gentle language they would prefer to tell voters.

Before their rhetorical shift, proponents of the ordinance freely admitted it was simply a ban. Dr. Stanton Glantz, a leading opponent of tobacco harm reduction from the University of California, San Francisco, called it an “absolutely bombproof ban” during a speech last April in support of the ordinance.

“If the Yes on Prop E campaign is so sure that enacting an ‘absolute bombproof ban’ is the best policy for the city, why would they actively warn canvassers to avoid informing voters of what they are campaigning for?” Gregory Conley, president of the American Vaping Association, said Tuesday. “Perhaps it is because the pro-ban campaign has talked to actual voters and discovered that prohibition and bans just aren’t popular in San Francisco. After all, less than two years ago a ballot measure to end California’s ban on recreational marijuana sales passed with the approval of 74 percent of San Francisco County voters.”

The ban not only prohibits the sale of menthol cigarettes and flavored vapor products in convenience stores in an attempt to limit youth access, but also in adult-only tobacco shops, making the products unavailable across the city. Critics of the ban say flavored vaping products are key to helping smokers dissociate with the taste of tobacco and ultimately quit. They also note the measure will disproportionately impact small businesses in the city.

Advocates claim the measure will dissuade youth from using vapor products, which they fear are serving as a gateway to combustible cigarettes for young Americans. While a large amount of teens are experimenting with e-cigarettes, teen smoking is declining to historic lows.

Furthermore, a recent study by renowned tobacco researchers Dr. Konstantinos Farsalinos of the Onassis Cardiac Surgery Centre in Greece and Dr. Riccardo Polosa of the University of Catania in Italy found regular use of electronic cigarettes is “rare” among youths who do not smoke.

Hysteria built around teen experimentation actively ignores the positive impact vaping is having on smoking prevalence in the U.S. and around the world.

Harm reduction advocates say restrictions aimed at flavors only serve to marginalize former smokers relying on a vape to satiate their nicotine cravings, potentially pushing them back to deadly combustible cigarettes, while doing little to address youth access.

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Steve Birr

Vice Reporter

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