Saturday, June 22, 2019

San Francisco Board of Supervisors to Vote Tuesday on Banning the Retail Sale of Cigarettes and Marijuana

This Tuesday, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors is scheduled to vote on a proposed ordinance that would ban the sale of cigarettes and marijuana products in the city until the FDA conducts a safety review of these products.

The impetus for the proposed ordinance was new data showing that a large proportion of San Francisco youths are still smoking and that the use of marijuana may even be increasing, especially with the recent legalization of recreational marijuana use. The city attorney explained that: "The epidemic is real. It needed attention. We felt it was necessary to step in and make sure we were protecting young people on our streets." He criticized the FDA for not properly vetting cigarettes and marijuana and failing to test the safety of these products, saying that the federal government "abdicated" its responsibility and therefore, the city "had to step in."

The supervisor who introduced the ordinance told The Rest of the Story that: "there are strong indications that marijuana actually alters receptors in the brain, making youth more susceptible to addiction." He called marijuana a "gateway" to harder drugs, citing evidence that youth who use marijuana are more likely to initiate the use of other drugs, including cigarettes, inhalants, stimulants, and even opiates. He cited a recent statement from the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) that "underscore[s] the need for effective prevention to reduce adolescent use of ... tobacco and marijuana in order to turn back the heroin and opioid epidemic and to reduce burdens of addiction in this country."

One supporter of the ordinance, a professor at UCSF, warned that: "According to data from the Monitoring the Future study, the use of marijuana among teens has reached epidemic proportions. In 2018, a whopping 36% of high school seniors reported using marijuana in the past year. This is a 50% increase from the level in 1991, which was just 24%." He also noted that in 2018, the prevalence of smoking among high school seniors was still 8%, despite decades of anti-smoking campaigns.

According to a spokesperson for the local lung association, "there are numerous flavored marijuana products on the market in San Francisco that are clearly designed to appeal to young people." A review of the menu offered at one San Francisco pot shop -- Urban Pharm on 10th Street in the SOMA district -- revealed a variety of kid-friendly flavors including "super fruit," "jelly roll," "slurricane," "sugar cookies," "sundae driver," "chocolate chip cookies," "orange soda," and "watermelon zkittlez."

The Campaign for Marijuana-Free Kids, in testimony before the Board of Supervisors, asked how supervisors could possibly not think that flavors like watermelon Skittles, slurry, chocolate chip cookie, and jelly roll are targeted at youth. "Prohibiting marijuana products in kid-friendly flavors is one of the most important actions we can take to reverse the youth marijuana epidemic and continue reducing youth marijuana use."

The UCSF professor was quoted as stating that: "The FDA is complicit in allowing this epidemic to develop. Other cities and states should follow San Francisco’s lead: pass comprehensive flavor bans, followed by legislation to prohibit the sales of cigarettes and marijuana products until they are properly assessed by FDA."

The San Francisco city attorney noted that smoking kills more than 400,000 Americans each year, saying: "Young people have almost indiscriminate access to a product that shouldn’t even be on the market. Because the FDA hasn’t acted, it’s unfortunately falling to states and localities to step into the breach." He also praised the city's supervisors for making San Francisco a national leader in the effort to confront cigarette use, which is the leading cause of preventable death in the nation. "San Francisco has never been afraid to lead. That will always be the case when the health of our children is on the line. I want to thank the Board of Supervisors for taking this pioneering step to protect our youth. This temporary moratorium wouldn’t be necessary if the federal government had done its job. Cigarettes are a product that should not be allowed on the market without FDA review. For some reason, the FDA has so far refused to act. If the federal government is not going to act to protect our kids, San Francisco will."

According to the website of the office of the city attorney: "Tobacco use is the leading cause of preventable disease and death in the United States. Tobacco kills more than 480,000 people a year in this country. That’s more than AIDS, alcohol, car accidents, illegal drugs, murders and suicides combined."

Many small businesses in San Francisco, including marijuana dispensaries, convenience stores, and smoke shops complained that if enacted, this law will severely hurt their sales. The owner of "Store 420" on Powell Street couldn't understand why the sale of marijuana had to be completely banned, rather than just restricting it to stores that do not allow minors. "We have strict age verification procedures and I can tell you that we only sell marijuana products to adults. Why does our business have to be sacrificed to protect kids from a product that - while it may be addictive - does not cause any severe acute health effects and it's not even clear that it causes serious long-term health consequences either?"

But the city attorney took issue with the stores' calling this policy a "ban," saying: "This legislation takes a reasoned approach. It doesn’t ban cigarettes or marijuana outright. It simply says that a product can’t be sold in San Francisco until it receives FDA approval. That’s just common sense. If Philip Morris or any company like it wants to sell their product in San Francisco, they should apply to the FDA today for review. If their product really has some kind of psychological benefit to adult smokers, as they claim, rather than a lure to addict another generation, they have the opportunity to get certified before this legislation takes effect."

CORRECTION (June 22, 2019 - 12:55 pm EDT): I have just been informed that I didn't get the story quite correct. Cigarettes and marijuana products are all being allowed to stay on the shelves with no regulation at all, regardless of scientific evidence regarding their serious health hazards, their widespread use among youth, and the targeting of youth by flavors like "slurry" and "jelly roll" that are intended to appeal to youth. Instead, the Board of Supervisors is banning the sale of fake cigarettes (i.e., electronic cigarettes) that contain no tobacco, involve no combustion, and have been demonstrated to be much safer than cigarettes and which also have been used by more than 2.5 million Americans to successfully quit smoking completely. I apologize for this error.

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