San Francisco Voters Uphold Ban on E-Cigarette Sales, Rejecting Juul-Funded Proposition C

A man blows vapor from an e-cigarette at a vape lounge in San Francisco. (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

San Franciscans on Tuesday voted down Proposition C, a ballot measure backed by e-cigarette maker Juul Labs that would have overturned a ban on the sale and distribution of e-cigarettes in the city.

Voters overwhelmingly rejected the referendum, with the "no" side pulling into a strong position just after polls closed Tuesday night and only strengthening its margin of victory as the evening progressed.

Supervisor Shamann Walton, who co-authored San Francisco's ban on the sale and distribution of e-cigarettes, celebrated Tuesday night.

"Other municipalities across the country will be able to look to San Francisco and say we beat Juul, we beat Big Tobacco, and we can do it together," Walton said.

The San Francisco Board of Supervisors, led by Walton, voted unanimously in June to ban the sale and distribution of e-cigarettes in the city until the products are reviewed by the Food and Drug Administration.

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"San Francisco voters are too smart to be fooled by Juul," City Attorney Dennis Herrera said in a written statement. "Juul is Big Tobacco, and it’s using a classic ploy from the Big Tobacco playbook to try and hook another generation of kids on nicotine."

City supervisors cited the surge in youth vaping as the impetus to act.

In a recent survey, one in four high school seniors reported vaping in the past month. That’s more than double the number from just two years ago. Even eighth-graders are vaping in record numbers.

The ban, which bars the sale of e-cigarettes in brick-and-mortar stores and prohibits the delivery of online e-cigarette purchases to San Francisco addresses, is slated to go into effect on Jan. 1, 2020.

Election 2019

But San Francisco-based Juul Labs didn't want to see the company's products banned in its hometown without a fight. In July, a coalition funded mainly by Juul gathered signatures and filed the ballot measure to overturn the city's ban. The measure called for new regulations on the sale of e-cigarettes, which supporters argued would help prevent youth from getting e-cigarettes, while still allowing adults to buy them.

Juul contributed more than $18 million to the Yes on C campaign, and almost $15 million of it had been spent.

At the end of September, however, Juul abruptly ended its support for the measure. Juul's new CEO, K.C. Crosthwaite, said at the time, "We must strive to work with regulators, policymakers and other stakeholders, and earn the trust of the societies in which we operate. That includes inviting an open dialogue, listening to others and being responsive to their concerns.”

He added that the company remains committed to the city: "San Francisco is not only the home of our company’s founding, but is also the home of many of our talented employees.”

This came after a leadership change, after critics said the company targeted youth in its marketing and following hundreds of vaping-related illnesses nationwide. There have been 150 cases of vaping-related illness and three deaths in California. So far, none of these deaths or illnesses has been linked to Juul products.

The No on C side spent roughly $9 million, $6.6 million of which came from businessman and former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg.