University of California San Francisco
Helen Diller Family Comprehensive Cancer Center

SFCAN Helps the City Take Aim at Reducing Use of Flavored Tobacco Products

By Karen Gehrman | | April 19, 2017

April 18, 2017 in San Francisco, city Supervisor Malia Cohen proposed legislation to prohibit the sale of flavored tobacco in the city, acknowledging the efforts of UCSF and the San Francisco Cancer Initiative #SFCAN.

On the steps of San Francisco's City Hall Supervisor Malia Cohen introduced legislation which would restriction the sale of flavored tobacco, including menthol products, city-wide. “The legislation I’ve authored is a full restriction on the sale of all flavored tobacco products, and that does include menthol. There are no exemptions,” Cohen said. This includes cigarettes, cigars, smokeless tobacco and e-cigarettes.

“We know from research and studies that tobacco-related diseases continue to be the No. 1 cause of preventable deaths, especially among low-income and minority communities,” said Mayor Ed Lee, adding "I look forward with eager anticipation to signing this."

Does a ban like this exist elsewhere?

Local and state health departments have already taken the initiative to regulate the sale of nonregulated flavored tobacco products in their jurisdictions.

The State of Maine banned the sale and distribution of flavored cigarettes and cigars in the state in 2009.

In 2011, New York City banned the sale of flavored tobacco products, excluding menthol.

Providence (RI) banned sale of flavored tobacco products and redemption of tobacco industry coupons and discounts in 2013, excluding menthol.

In 2014, Chicago banned the sale of all flavored tobacco products, including menthol, within a 500-foot radius of any elementary, middle, or secondary school.

Effective January 2017, the City of Berkeley created a tobacco retail buffer zone, prohibiting the sale of flavored tobacco and electronic tobacco products, including menthol, around schools.

In October 2016, Santa Clara County restricted the sale of all flavored tobacco products, including menthol, with an exemption for retailers only accessible to those 21 and older.

from "Flavored Tobacco Fact Sheet, City and County of San Francisco"

Research about the dangers of flavored tobacco products was led by scientists with the San Francisco Cancer Initiative (SFCAN), a public health partnership launched last year to reduce cancer incidence city-wide.  UCSF is a supporting organization for SFCAN.

Dr. Valerie Yerger, of UCSF, addressed the need for the legislation to reduce tobacco use among San Francisco's youth and populations who are disproportionately targeted by advertisers. “Forty-five thousand African Americans die annually from tobacco related diseases - more than police involved shootings, homicides, AIDS, car accidents, diabetes; and all other preventable causes of death combined.”  

“Why do over 80% of Black smokers smoke mentholated tobacco products? Since the Civil Rights Era, Big Tobacco companies have perniciously targeted the African American Community with mentholated tobacco products.”

“This proposed legislation puts the health and lives of our children before the tobacco industry profits" said Carol McGruder of the African American Tobacco Control Leadership Council.

Other speakers included Tomás Aragón, MD, MPH, from the San Francisco Department of Public Health, whose department would be tasked with enforcing the ordinance, and Oakland's vice mayor Annie Campbell Washington who intends to introduce similar legislation across the bay next month.

If enacted, the tobacco ordinance in San Francisco, co-authored by Supervisor Ahsha Safaí, would become effective Jan. 1.

For more information on SFCAN, visit the San Francisco Cancer Initiative.