SAN FRANCISCO (CBS SF) -- A measure that would repeal a ban on flavored tobacco products passed by the San Francisco Board of Supervisors earlier this year has qualified for the ballot, according to the city's Department of Elections.
Proponents for the petition to place the repeal on the ballot, a committee operating under the name Let's Be Real San Francisco, needed to submit just under 20,000 verified signatures by today to qualify.
The measure will now go to the Board of Supervisors for possible reconsideration of the ordinance banning flavored tobacco.
If the board declines to repeal the ordinance—which proponents acknowledge is unlikely, given that the original measure passed unanimously—the measure will then be set either for a special election, at a date yet to be determined, or for the next scheduled city election in June 2018.
Let's Be Real San Francisco, a committee that includes the Arab American Grocers Association, a number of vaping outlets and the National Association of Tobacco Outlets, is funded almost entirely by the R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company. The committee had collected $600,000 in cash contributions and $85,170.77 in non-monetary contributions this year as of July 31, according to filings with the San Francisco Ethics Commission.
Spokesman Jaime Rojas said the committee believes voters will see the issue as an issue of free choice for consumers.
"The government has definitely surpassed its boundary with this ordinance," spokesman Jaime Rojas said. "Adults have freedom of choice to make their decisions, and there's already enough rules around tobacco products."
Rojas also argued that measure would have a negative impact on retailers who sell tobacco products.
A San Francisco Controller's Office report estimated that San Francisco smokers probably spend around $50 million annually on menthol and other flavored cigarettes, but could not determine how much of that was spent within city limits.
The ban affects not only flavored cigarettes including menthols but also chewing tobacco and tobacco products sold for electronic cigarettes.
The controller's office did not have sales estimates for e-cigarettes, vape pens and similar products, but cited one 2016 study that found that their use has increased in recent years, with around 5.8 percent of adults in California using them. They are especially popular among younger smokers.
Proponents for the ban argue that flavored tobacco products are heavily marketed toward and used by vulnerable populations including children and young adults, African Americans and the LGBTQ community. Flavored tobaccos can help hook new smokers by masking the harsh flavors of tobacco, encourage deeper inhalation and are considered harder to quit, according to statements from the University of California at San Francisco.
Supervisor Malia Cohen, who sponsored the legislation, said tobacco-related cancers were the leading cause of cancer deaths in San Francisco for both men and women. In addition, the city of San Francisco spends around $380 million in per year in direct health care costs and lost productivity.
The Oakland City Council also voted last month to approve a ban on flavored tobacco products, but that ordinance still requires a second vote before it becomes final.
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