June 6, 2018

Stanton A. Glantz, PhD

San Francisco strongly supports end to selling flavored tobacco products

With 68.4% voting “yes” San Francisco voters crushed RJ Reynolds (US subsidiary of British American Tobacco) $12 million effort to overturn San Francisco’s ban on flavored tobacco products. 

RJR’s last-ditch effort to roll back this law illustrates just how important flavors are to the tobacco industry’s efforts to hook kids and keep adults smoking, a lesson that public health advocates should take seriously and prioritize passing the same legislation (right behind comprehensive smokefree laws) around the country and the world. 

This is also the best empirical evidence that the FDA needs to warrant getting rid of flavors in all tobacco products.

As I wrote earlier, this year’s Proposition E is, in many ways, a replay of 1983’s Proposition P, when the tobacco companies unsuccessfully sought to overturn San Francisco’s (by today mild) restrictions on smoking in the workplace.  The industry’s loss then lit the afterburners on the smokefree movement; this loss should do the same for flavors.

One big difference between the 1983 Prop P campaign and today’s Prop E is that when we were defending Prop P – I was the treasurer for the campaign – the national health groups did not get involved in the campaign.   This time, led by the Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids, they did.  It made a huge difference.

We also all owe a huge thank you to the Three Musketeers of Menthol – Valerie Yerger, Carol McGruder, and Phil Gardiner – for their tireless leadership on this issue, especially after menthol was left out of the FDA bill in 2009.

I am also grateful to Alan Ashworth, the President of the UCSF Helen Diller Comprehensive Cancer Center, for his vision in establishing the SF CAN partnership between UCSF and the community to reduce cancer in San Francisco.  Tobacco is an important element of SF CAN and Valerie’s project to educate the public about menthol and flavors was an important component of the tobacco project.  When we started, we had hoped that after 3 years San Francisco would be ready to address the flavor issue; it only took a year.

It will be interesting to see if RJR/BAT now wastes more money suing to try and block the law.

In the meantime, based on the experience in Ontario, Canada, we can expect an increase in people quitting smoking.

TFK’s press statement from Matt Myers, reproduced below, gives more details.




San Francisco Voters Uphold Ban on Flavored Tobacco Products

In Big Win for Kids over Tobacco Industry

Statement of Matthew L. Myers, President, Tobacco-Free Kids Action Fund

WASHINGTON, D.C. – San Francisco voters on Tuesday delivered a truly historic victory for kids and health over the tobacco industry by upholding the city’s law banning the sale of flavored tobacco products, including menthol cigarettes. By a 68 percent to 32 percent margin, San Francisco voters overwhelmingly upheld the law. The city’s voters rejected a nearly $12 million campaign by the R.J. Reynolds tobacco company aimed at overturning the law and preserving the tobacco industry’s ability to target kids with candy-flavored products.

San Francisco’s groundbreaking law stands – and will stop the tobacco industry from targeting kids, African Americans and other populations with menthol- and candy-flavored products, as the industry has done for far too long. The San Francisco vote gives a powerful boost to growing efforts around the country to end the sale of flavored tobacco products.

R.J. Reynolds spent more than $11.6 million on a self-serving and deceptive campaign to try to overturn the law because they want to sustain the pipeline of kids the tobacco industry needs to survive. Reynolds knows that menthol and other flavors – including candy flavors – play a key role in attracting kids to start and continue using tobacco products. Today’s vote shows that voters can and will see through industry lies and stand up for kids.

The Tobacco-Free Kids Action Fund was proud to join the many organizations and individuals supporting the Yes on Prop E campaign (see list of supporters at sfkidsvsbigtobacco.com). We especially thank Michael R. Bloomberg for his exceptional leadership in supporting the Yes on E campaign, Supervisor Malia Cohen for her leadership on the Board of Supervisors and the African American Tobacco Control Leadership Council for its role throughout the campaign.


The San Francisco Board of Supervisors voted unanimously on the bill introduced by Supervisor Malia Cohen in June 2017 to end the sale of flavored tobacco products, including menthol cigarettes. Reynolds subsequently launched a ballot initiative to overturn the law and provided nearly all of the funding for the campaign to do so.

Tobacco companies have a long history of developing and marketing flavored tobacco products as “starter” products that attract kids. Flavors improve the taste and mask the harshness of tobacco products, making them more appealing and easier for kids to try the product and ultimately become addicted.

As youth smoking rates have fallen, manufacturers have sought to entice kids with a new generation of candy-flavored tobacco products. Electronic cigarettes are sold in thousands of flavors, and flavored cigars make up more than half of the U.S. cigar market. These products come in flavors like gummy bear, cotton candy and banana smash that clearly appeal to kids, and they’re often colorfully packaged to look just like candy and other kid-friendly products.

In addition, tobacco companies continue to aggressively market menthol cigarettes to kids, African Americans and other demographic groups. R.J. Reynolds makes Newport, the best-selling menthol cigarette brand and the second most popular cigarette brand among youth smokers.

The evidence is clear that flavors play an important role in youth initiation and continued use of tobacco products. A government study published in JAMA found that that 81 percent of kids who have ever tried tobacco started with a flavored product, and 80 percent of current youth tobacco users had used a flavored product in the past month.

Youth smokers are also more likely to use menthol cigarettes than any other age group. Over half (54 percent) of youth smokers ages 12-17 use menthol cigarettes, compared to less than one-third of smokers ages 35 and older. Menthol use is even higher among African-American youth: seven out of 10 African-American youth smokers smoke menthol cigarettes. The popularity of menthol cigarettes among African Americans and youth is a direct result of a decades-long marketing campaign by the tobacco industry. The industry’s targeting has had a destructive impact as African Americans smoke menthol cigarettes at high rates and quit smoking at lower rates, and African-American men have high death rates from lung cancer. A comprehensive report by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, issued in 2013, found that menthol cigarettes led to 1) increased smoking initiation among youth and young adults; 2) greater addiction; and 3) decreased success in quitting smoking.

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