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The Dark Side of San Francisco’s E-Cigarette Ban

By: Editorial Board

Anyone over 21, and with an ID to prove it, can purchase cigarettes, booze and even marijuana in retail establishments across San Francisco. But as soon as next month, one age-restricted product won’t be available for purchase, not even online. That’s because San Francisco officials, in a misguided attempt to curb teen vaping, are moving to ban sales of all electronic tobacco products to anyone within the city until the federal government adopts regulations on them.

The San Francisco Board of Supervisors gave a tentative thumbs-up to the ban last week, and the supervisors are expected to reaffirm their support in a final vote Tuesday. We hope the supervisors will see the light before then. Not only is it bad public policy to outlaw a legal product that’s widely available just outside the city’s borders, but it’s bad public health policy to come down harder on the lesser of two tobacco evils.

Electronic cigarettes are new enough that we don’t fully understand the health effects from vaping, which involves inhaling the fumes produced by heated liquid nicotine. Nicotine in any form comes with health risks. But it’s well established that smoke from conventional combustible cigarettes can kill both smokers and bystanders, and that some longtime smokers have been able to quit that deadly habit by switching to vaping.

Granted, teen vaping is a serious concern. While smoking rates have dropped significantly among U.S. middle school and high school students — they’re down to just about 8% — electronic cigarettes are gaining popularity rapidly. In less than a decade, e-cigarette use among U.S. teens has soared from less than 2% to more than 20%. In just one year, from 2017 to 2018, teen use increased by 36%. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that, as of 2018, about one-fifth of all U.S. high school students reported using an electronic cigarette in the last 30 days. By comparison, San Francisco’s Youth Risk Behavior Study determined that as of 2017, just 7% of the city’s high schoolers had reported vaping in the last 30 days.


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