Voters Defeat Big Tobacco in San Francisco

Congratulations to San Francisco voters for seeing through R.J. Reynolds deceptive and self-serving campaign, and voting in a “historic victory for kids and health” by banning the sale of flavored tobacco products on the June 6 ballot.

In June 2017 San Francisco’s board of supervisors approved an ordinance banning flavors, including menthol, in tobacco products which was set to take effect April 2018.  The ban prohibited sales of the products within city limits, but not their use.  Nearly 34,000 signatures were gathered in a petition drive, paid for by R.J. Reynolds, to place Prop E on the June 2018 ballot.  Reynolds then spent nearly $12 million to defeat the referendum, but on June 6 voters went to the polls and voted to uphold the ban with a 68 percent to 32 percent margin.

Flavored products are considered “starter” products by the tobacco industry and are heavily marketed to attract kids. The flavors improve the taste and make smoking less harsh on the throat, which make them easier to use.   The tobacco industry continues to market their menthol cigarette brands to kids, African Americans, and other groups.  Newport cigarettes are the best-selling menthol brand, “and the second most popular cigarette brand among youth smokers.”  Over half of youth smokers (54 percent) ages 12-17 use menthol cigarettes versus only one-third of adult smokers 35 and older.  And African-American youth menthol rate is even higher at 70 percent.

As smoking rates have fallen, the tobacco industry has turned to more candy-flavored tobacco products such as little flavored cigars which “make up more than half of the U.S. cigar market.”  The cheap prices and the bright packaging helps to grab youth attention.  Youth who decided they didn’t want to smoke are  turning to vaping, with over 15,000 kid-friendly, electronic cigarette flavors being marketed in colorful packaging that looks like candy and food products.

Tobacco flavors play an important role in initiation and continued use among youth.  According to Truth Initiative, “nearly 81 percent of youth ages 12 to 17 who had ever used a tobacco product reported that the first product they used was flavored,” and 80 percent of current youth users report they have used a flavored product in the past month.

Banning flavors will “stop the tobacco industry from targeting kids, African Americans and other populations with menthol- and candy-flavored products” and will hopefully decrease the number of current users.  While the will of the people have spoken, this probably is not the last we will hear from the tobacco industry on this matter.

Click here for the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids article.
Little cigar photo from Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids.  E-cigarette flavor from FDA.


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