Progressive San Francisco Is Regressive On Vaping

San Francisco, a city where progressive policy is king, seems to enjoy the irony in its actions.

The San Francisco Chronicle is reporting that the city, which has long been a supporter of progressive policies when it comes to public health, is in the midst of entertaining a citywide ban on vape products. The ban, which has been described by the paper as a policy “that is as Prohibition-oriented as something that might come out of the Deep South,” is remarkably regressive for a city that has long held the belief that abstaining from a habit is far more dangerous than educating citizens about it.

The “better to educate than abstain” policy of the city is put into sharp focus when discussing sexual health and sexually transmitted diseases. This is where the city has shone as a beacon for advocates of sex in terms of public health: it has maintained a viewpoint that educating citizens as well as promoting safe-sex practices and public health strategies in order to minimize the dangers of unprotected sex. To the credit of the San Francisco, this campaign, which has been on-going for decades, remains one of the city’s best-known progressive policies and has been successful in this area, most notably with the introduction of the San Francisco City Clinic, which provides free or low-cost sexual health care.

Unfortunately, the view of educating and promoting safer public health practices does not extend to vaping, and for a very strange reason: vape products are seen by politicians and city leaders as being vessels for tobacco.

Vapers and the vape community at large, along with researchers and scientists, know that vape products do not contain tobacco. In fact, the only substance that has been used in vape products that have a connection to tobacco is nicotine, which is naturally occurring in the tobacco leaf. However, technological advances in vaping and liquid production has brought about the invention of synthetic nicotine, ending any correlation between these products and traditional tobacco products. Very few vape companies continue to use nicotine derived from tobacco, so this argument is shaky at best.

This publication has written extensively on how nicotine isn’t the culprit behind traditional tobacco, and it must be ingested along with other toxins and carcinogens, such as are found in traditional cigarettes, in order to cause real and long-lasting damage to the human body. Interested readers might find this Forbes article, on the subject of nicotine, useful.

And yet the authorities of San Francisco and Oakland continue to campaign for citywide bans on flavored tobacco products. By federal law, vape products are categorized as tobacco products, meaning that the city would ban not only vape products, but the vape stores, distributors, and manufacturers in the area. This would decimate the small but growing community of small businesses in the industry, adding to a loss of jobs and revenue that the city stands to gain from if they don’t implement the ban.

The interesting part of this story?

Traditional cigarettes that don’t contain menthol will still be widely available for consumption in the city. That’s right — traditional smokers who want to smoke a pack a day can continue the habit, but smokers who are using vape products as a smoking cessation method will be out of luck if the ban is approved.

California state law gives cities like San Francisco the ability to regulate tobacco sales within city limits; this has laid the groundwork for the many localities to expand their tobacco ordinances. In San Francisco, the ban will be introduced at a supervisors’ meeting that is set to take place June 14, 2017, in San Francisco; other flavor bans are already in the legislative process in other cities, including Contra Costa County, Oakland, and San Leandro.

There is no denying that tobacco is bad for the public: one visit to Be Tobacco Free, a government-sponsored website, can tell you that. Along with being one of the leading causes of lung cancer, tobacco is responsible for or is a contributing factor to, the following: pregnancy-related issues, emphysema, bronchitis, heart disease, and respiratory problems. In fact, it is estimated that smoking cigarettes can take ten years off a normal person’s life span, regardless of when they begin smoking.

But tobacco is legal in this country and has been since it was established. It has always sold a dangerous substance that is regulated by federal law. Unless the laws change, it will continue to do so.

It is also not the only dangerous substance people can legally use in this country either: alcohol and opioids are also sold legally; the former is sold freely while the latter must be prescribed by a doctor. These are used by a large number of the population, including young people, and it is rare that prohibiting or banning any of these substances will result in no one using it.

Banning flavored tobacco, including vape juices, is counterproductive to the aims of the city. One impact is that former smokers who are trying to quit with vaping may very well return to smoking if they cannot easily obtain vape products. Another is that the city will lose the revenue that comes from taxing vape products; if there are no vape products in the city because it has been banned, the city cannot collect the taxes that comes from the habit, thereby creating a whole in the city’s revenue. This would have to be addressed in the city budget at some point, and chances are, the taxpayers will not vote to pay more because the city reduced its own profits.

But the most important possible result of this ban may be that vapers will either turn to the internet or the black market for vape products or create their own vape juices and devices. Both scenarios are dangerous because it puts vapers at risk of getting or making juices that are not held up to federal standards, especially if they purchase juices overseas from countries that do not regulate nicotine.

Vape devices and juices can be DIY’ed; many people create their own devices and e-liquids by buying products through online retailers, so the ban on flavored tobacco products, which really just speaks to vape juices, wouldn’t really affect vapers who are serious about finding a way to continue their habits.

These are some things that the San Francisco officials are not thinking about or would prefer to keep out of the debate surrounding tobacco. They would rather continue to define vape liquids as tobacco, even though the products are not tobacco, so they can continue on with an asinine ban that has a higher chance of causing the city trouble in some way than succeeding.

San Francisco is taking a puritanical view on vaping for reasons that this writer cannot understand. If the city is so against tobacco, why not just ban all tobacco products from the city? This would be a far more effective way of ending the discussion surrounding tobacco.

The city, of course, cannot ban tobacco within the city limits; the public backlash alone would ensure a new government during the next election. It can, however, continue to try to demonize vape products, including vape liquids, which have been one of the most successful smoking cessation methods in the country.

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