The city of San Francisco has announced a new ordinance last week that cracks down on tobacco sales. The tobacco control ordinance, which was authored by Supervisor Malia Cohen and Supervisor Ahsha Safai, targets flavored tobacco products.
“This is the most comprehensive municipal restriction on flavored tobacco in the country,” said Cohen.
According to Cohen, flavored tobacco is targeted towards young Black consumers and is designed to make them long-time customers.
“Flavored tobacco hooks new smokers and makes them lifelong users. It can be more harmful and harder to quit than unflavored tobacco,” said Cohen. “Tobacco use remains the leading cause of preventable death in the United States, specifically cancers. This legislation will have a tremendous impact on the disturbing disparities for tobacco-related illnesses, and will reduce the number of new tobacco users that pick up the habit annually.”
She added San Francisco is facing the cost of paying for tobacco-related illnesses. Cohen said smoking-related illnesses cost the city more than $380 million per year in direct expenses.
Menthol cigarettes are popular with Black smokers, and there is a reason behind this. According to Cohen, menthol flavoring adds taste, and this makes it easier to consume the product. The industry also backs this up with heavy marketing.
“Since the Civil Rights Era, Big Tobacco companies have perniciously targeted the African American community with mentholated tobacco products,” said Dr. Valerie Yerger of the University of California San Francisco. Yerger also said tobacco kills more African Americans yearly than AIDs, homicides, police-related shootings and diabetes.
“Young people are susceptible to marketing,” added Cohen. “They are bombarded with advertising.”
The ordinance targets tobacco, but avoids addressing concerns around marijuana which anti-marijuana advocates in the past have had concerns with the names of flavors they believe also target kids. Cohen said she is less concerned about marijuana because restrictions are preventing that industry from marketing its products to people under 21.
However, Cohen is not the only California lawmaker who launched an anti-smoking bill. Assemblymember Kevin McCarty (D-Sacramento) recently announced a proposed bill that prohibits retailers from accepting coupons, promotions or discounts on tobaccos sales. Last November, California voters approved Proposition 56, which added a $2 per pack tax on cigarettes and other smoking products. Tobacco retailers countered by offering discounts and promotions to lower the prices of their products.
“Sadly, the tobacco industry continues to trick consumers into becoming long-term addicts by artificially lowering the price of tobacco products,” said McCarty in a press release. “This legislation will put a stop to this deadly promotional tactic and continue California’s progressive efforts to reduce tobacco consumption in the state.”