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San Francisco Prepares To Ban Electronic Cigarettes


The country's biggest e-cigarettes company, Juul Labs, calls San Francisco home. That has not stopped the city's board of supervisors from taking up a vote tomorrow. It is considering a bill to ban the sale of e-cigarettes. Reporter Laura Klivans of member station KQED has the story.

LAURA KLIVANS, BYLINE: Fifteen-year-old Abbey Chaitin has lived in San Francisco her whole life. She doesn't really see the draw of using e-cigarettes, which her friends just call vaping.

ABBEY CHAITIN: Because I've noticed how addicted my peers have become to, like, vaping.

KLIVANS: She sits on her bed in her purple room. There's a "Breakfast Club" poster on the wall, and you can see San Francisco's summer fog out her window. She told me the majority of her friends have tried vaping, and a few are now hooked.

CHAITIN: I'll see them in class, like, fidgeting or - like, they need it to focus, to function.

KLIVANS: Last year, one in five high school seniors reported vaping in the past month. That's almost double the number who reported vaping the year before. Even eighth-graders are vaping in record numbers.

SHAMANN WALTON: We're going to fight hard to stop that.

KLIVANS: San Francisco's supervisor Shamann Walton co-authored the new ordinance.

WALTON: We spent a few decades fighting big tobacco in the form of cigarettes. And now we have to do it again in the form of e-cigarettes.

KLIVANS: The proposed law would ban selling e-cigarettes in the city and delivering them to San Francisco addresses. That means you couldn't even order them online. In California, it's illegal for anyone under 21 to buy tobacco products, both regular and e-cigarettes. Still, Walton says vaping devices are common in the city's middle and high schools. He points out that nicotine, no matter how you ingest it, can harm a young person's developing brain.

WALTON: And now we're just trading one nicotine addiction for another.

KLIVANS: Juul's vaping device, also called a Juul, was introduced in 2015. The company now controls 70% of the vaping market. Company officials say they also want to keep e-cigarettes away from young people. They say they've made it harder for underage buyers to purchase Juul off their website, and Juul shut down its accounts on Facebook and Instagram.

But the company argues banning e-cigarettes will mean adults who want to quit smoking regular cigarettes will have a harder time. San Francisco resident Jay Friedman agrees. The software engineer used to smoke a pack a day for 20 years.

JAY FRIEDMAN: E-cigarettes have really gotten me down to smoking, like, two or three a day.

KLIVANS: Friedman supported a ban on flavored tobacco that city voters passed last year.

FRIEDMAN: I feel like it was a good step to get rid of the fruit flavors for kids, but this feels like maybe a step too far.

KLIVANS: He says if e-cigarettes are banned, he would try to quit nicotine altogether, but...

FRIEDMAN: There would be a point and a moment of weakness where I'd just end up buying a pack of smokes again. And then it's just a slippery slope from there.

KLIVANS: City supervisors worry that for every adult that might benefit, dozens of young people could become addicted. Small businesses in San Francisco are concerned the ban will hurt their bottom line.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: Hey. How's it going?

KLIVANS: Miriam Zouzounis and her family own this convenience store near downtown San Francisco, Ted's Market.

MIRIAM ZOUZOUNIS: When people come and want to purchase something at the store and we don't have that exact item that they want, they're not going to buy the rest of the items that they might on that trip - a drink or a sandwich - if we don't have their type of tobacco product.

KLIVANS: She says sales from e-cigarettes are at least $200 to $300 a day. And as a board member of the Arab American Grocers Association, she believes laws like this mostly affect immigrant-owned businesses.

If passed, the ban would go into effect early next year. But 15-year-old Abbey Chaitin thinks it won't make much of a difference.

CHAITIN: People my age can find a way around that if they really need to.

KLIVANS: Meanwhile, Juul is collecting signatures for a ballot initiative to override the ban in November.

For NPR News, I'm Laura Klivans in San Francisco.

KELLY: And this story is part of a reporting partnership with NPR News, KQED and Kaiser Health News.

(SOUNDBITE OF MT. WOLF SONG, "TUCANA") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.