Seeking to curb teen vaping, San Francisco officials on Tuesday introduced legislation to ban the sale of electronic cigarettes until the federal government regulates them.
The measure, if approved, would be the first of its kind nationally, preventing people from buying e-cigarettes online or at stores in the largest city in northern California, pending the Food and Drug Administration's evaluation of their impact on public health.
Such a restriction would build on the city's aggressive vaping regulations. Voters in 2018 upheld the city's first-in-the-nation outright ban on the sale of flavored tobacco and flavored vaping liquids.
But vaping proponents who say e-cigarettes help adult smokers quit packs of Marlboros argued the proposal would unfairly target vaping products. Cigarettes and cigars with well-documented health risks could be sold more widely as a result, Gregory Conley, president of the American Vaping Association, told USA TODAY.
"No youth should vape, but no politician should try to enact modern-day prohibition," Conley said. "It is hard for San Francisco to get even more absurd, but this proposal and the rhetoric around it is absolutely insane."
San Francisco Supervisor Shamann Walton, who introduced the legislation, also on Tuesday announced a plan to bar making, selling or distributing tobacco products on city property. The legislation targets e-cigarette company Juul Labs, which rents part of Pier 70.
“We don’t want them in our city,” Walton said at a press conference.
In a statement, Juul said the city's proposed legislation would make it harder for adult smokers to buy e-cigarettes that could help them curb addiction. Doctors, however, say the nicotine in e-cigarettes can harm developing adolescent brains and lead to underage smoking.
In 2018, more than 3.6 million U.S. middle and high school students had used e-cigarettes over the past 30 days, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Juul added it has stopped selling flavored products to retailers to discourage underage vaping, but opposes San Francisco's plan.
"This proposed legislation begs the question — why would the City be comfortable with combustible cigarettes being on shelves when we know they kill more than 480,000 Americans per year?" Juul said in a statement.
“They are trying to shut down a business that is operating peacefully in their city, Juul,” Conley said. “Meanwhile, you can walk the streets of San Francisco — if you don’t step in human excrement — and pass by people with various needles hanging out of their arms. I think San Francisco may have greater priorities."
While 1.5 million more students used e-cigarettes in 2018 compared to the previous year, the FDA said the usage of combustible tobacco products such as cigars did not significantly change in the same period.
Concerned about underage addiction, City Attorney Dennis Herrera said he sent a joint letter with Chicago and New York demanding the FDA evaluate the public health risks posed by e-cigarettes. He said the agency should have reviewed the products before stores began selling them.
“The result is that millions of children are already addicted to e-cigarettes and millions more will follow if we don’t act,” Herrera said Tuesday.
Manufacturers were supposed to submit vaping products for review by August 2018, but FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb in 2017 delayed the deadline until 2022. He said at the time that both the agency and the industry needed more time to prepare.
Earlier this month, the agency proposed moving the deadline to 2021 and restricting the sale of e-cigarettes to curb underage usage. The FDA did not respond to a request for comment on the letter.
Contributing: The Associated Press
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: 'Modern-day prohibition'? San Francisco looks to ban e-cigarette sales until FDA review