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San Francisco Becomes First Major U.S. City to Ban E-Cigarette Sales

Health + Wellness

San Francisco became the first major American city to ban e-cigarette sales following two unanimous votes by its Board of Supervisors.


This week, following a preliminary vote, the supervisors approved an ordinance barring the sale of e-cigarettes that have not been subject to a review by the Food and Drug Administration, NBC News reported. To date, the FDA has not ruled on any currently available e-cigarettes before they went to market, according to the The Washington Post.

The measure is expected to go into effect 30 days after being signed by San Francisco Mayor London Breed — who has publicly expressed support for the ban — and full implementation of the ordinance will take place six months after, CBS Sacramento reported. Retailers who violate the ordinance could face fines and jail time.

The ordinance, which does not prohibit people 21 and older from using e-cigarettes, was passed alongside a ban on the sale, manufacture and distribution of vaping devices on city property. That legislation specifically named e-cigarettes as being responsible for a "growing health epidemic of youth vaping."

The city had already passed a ban on the sale of e-cigarettes in places where traditional tobacco items were prohibited in 2014, NBC News reported.

"Middle school and high school students are becoming addicted to nicotine because of e-cigarettes, so we want to do everything we can to keep e-cigarettes out of the hands of young people until the FDA conducts the appropriate clinical trials and finds out how these should be marketed," the ordinance's co-author and main sponsor, city Supervisor Shamann Walton, told CBS MoneyWatch.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the number of middle and high school students who use vapes jumped from 3.6 million to nearly 5 million between 2017 and 2018. Previously, teen smoking rates plummeted between 1997 and 2015, and until the rise of vapes, some experts had believed it would reach zero in a few decades.

Juul Labs, the leading e-cigarette manufacturer, is based in San Francisco and leases space from the city, but will not be forced out from that location by the ordinance. The company, which also bought an office building in the city on the same day as the supervisors' preliminary vote, criticized the ordinance by saying it will "create a thriving black market" for underage vape users and push adult users back to traditional cigarettes.

Though the aerosols used in e-cigarettes are believed to have fewer toxic chemicals, they do still contain highly addictive nicotine, which can hinder brain development and lead to diabetes, hypertension and other diseases. The total impact of e-cigarettes on health is still unknown, but recent studies have shown a link between their use and diseases like chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).

Last month, a federal judge sided with several public health groups in a lawsuit against the FDA, ruling that the agency must begin regulating e-cigarettes sooner than its planned 2021 target date. District Judge Paul Grimm of the U.S. District Court for the District of Maryland said that the FDA had shirked its legal responsibilities by delaying premarket reviews of e-cigarettes.

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