If there's one way to attract a voter's attention, it might be with an illustration of Lady Liberty wielding a baseball bat.
At least that was the cover of a provocative voting guide, brightly colored orange and white, that a self-declared progressive group—the SF League of Pissed Off Voters—distributed online and in San Francisco before polls closed on Tuesday. A copy of the pamphlet obtained by VICE offered, among various tips recommended in over-the-top, humorously aggressive language, one simple admonition: Vote "HELL FUCKING NO on Prop C."
In other words, fuck vaping. And on Tuesday, San Francisco residents agreed wholeheartedly.
Voters rejected Proposition C, a measure that, if approved, would have permitted the sale and regulation of e-cigarettes and other vapes. (It was struck down with approximately 90,000 votes cast "no," and only about 22,000 "yes"; that's around an 80 to 20 percent margin.) Essentially, if you favored the ballot proposal, you wanted to overturn a moratorium local officials put in place at the end of June that would bar all vape products from being sold until the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) officially reviewed their applications for approval.
The ban is now set to take effect at the end of January.
"San Francisco voters are too smart to be fooled by Juul," Dennis Herrera, the city attorney of San Francisco who co-authored the original ordinance, said in a statement on Tuesday night. "Complete FDA review and you can sell your product here. If you don’t, you can't. It’s that simple. If the FDA can't verify that these products are safe, then they don't belong on store shelves."
The initial idea among local officials was that the FDA was taking much too long in confronting what the agency called an "epidemic" of vape use by young people. But advocates of vaping, heavily financed by embattled hometown powerhouse JUUL Labs, successfully got a vape revival measure on the ballot. It took the emergence of vaping-linked illnesses and brutal criticism from Congress, the press, and other agencies over the summer for the company to decide to publicly bail on the ballot proposal in September.
That left the door open for vape antagonists to get their message out and win the first major test of a vape ban via public referendum, even as advocates of vaping as a safer alternative to cigarettes warned of the consequences.
"I'm not surprised," said Jt Gleason, a senior director of developer relations at Twitch, and former smoker who transitioned to vaping. "The Vote Yes on C did a terrible job of getting a harm-reduction message out. Vape stores ran out of 'Vote Yes' cards, there were no mailers of significant size, and they let the narrative of 'Big Tobacco is for Yes' stand."
JUUL had already reportedly spent close to $19 million on saving vaping in its hometown, but its flight left the campaign battle largely in the hands of former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, a longtime anti-tobacco crusader billionaire who was pumping cash into keeping the ban in place. The initial coalition JUUL had supported seemed to disintegrate.
Meanwhile, even before it was backed by voters, San Francisco's strategy became something of a model around the country, as many other states and localities pursued bans of their own. The federal government is also expected to announce some kind of flavor ban as soon as this week.
Critics have warned repeatedly that such measures will just push more users into the black market, which the CDC has said is where the majority of vaping illnesses are linked. "If an adult chooses to vape instead of smoke to protect both their health and others, why would you force them back to cigarettes?" Gleason said. "And this will disproportionately affect the poor who cannot drive to pick up vape supplies [in other towns]. Harm reduction for the rich; the homeless have to smoke. Pretty typical of San Francisco, sadly."
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