"I'll be really glad when this approaches my desk. I'm going to be signing it with eager, eager anticipation," Mayor Ed Lee said. If signed, the ban would go into effect in January 2018.
Neill Franklin is a former police officer with the Law Enforcement Action Partnership. He said banning flavored tobacco products is reminiscent of the prohibition against alcohol in the 1920s.
"We know what happens when we prohibit popular products. We inadvertently create a very profitable underground market," Franklin said.
While the ordinance explicitly states that it will target retailers and not individuals, Franklin said he thinks the interpretation of the law will get messy when someone is caught selling flavored tobacco products on the street.
"In an effort to do what we believe to be a very, very good thing for the health of this country, you don't inadvertently want to cause another problem," Franklin said. "Especially during a time when we're trying to do some relationship-building between the police and communities of color."
Cohen said Franklin’s statements exploit the death of Eric Garner, a black man choked to death in New York when found selling single cigarettes on the sidewalk.
“That’s trying to cast a doubt to the African-American community and crime, which is a very insidious connection,” Cohen said. “What hurts the community is selective targeting to products that cause cancer, stroke, heart disease and ultimately will bring about death.”
Some small-business owners are also wary of the ban. Miriam Zouzounis is a board member with the Arab American Grocers Association, which represents 300 stores in the San Francisco area. Zouzounis said many corner stores rely on tobacco products for more than half of their total revenue.
"The cigarettes and the tobacco are anchor products," Zouzounis said. "If those products are gone, the reason why people will come to our store won’t be there anymore to sell the impulse products, the drinks and the sandwiches."
Zouzounis echoed Franklin, saying a ban on flavored tobacco products would create an underground market and encourage people to drive to neighboring towns to make purchases.
“We shouldn’t be upholding the prosperity of a select few for making others extremely sick at best and killing them at worst,” Cohen said in response to arguments that the ban would significantly impact small businesses in San Francisco.