May 30, 2019

Stanton A. Glantz, PhD

SF City Attorney issues misleading title and summary for Juul imitative that will overturn SF flavor ban

As I described on May 16, 2019, Juul filed a cleverly worded initiative to overturn San Francisco’s ban on flavored tobacco products (at least as they apply to e-cigarettes) and generally roll back enforcement of a wide range of laws against e-cigarettes.

The first step in this process is for the City Attorney to write a “ballot title and summary” that will appear on the petitions that Juul will circulate to collect signatures to put the measure on the ballot.  The ballot title and summary is meant to inform voters so that they know what they are signing without being lawyers. 

The City Attorney has a responsiblity to be neutral in the way that he descrbes the initiative to be fair to all parties.

The City Attorney completely abrogated his responsibility in this matter.

In particular, the key provision Juul wants is in Section 19N.5-6(a), which is buried on page 7 of the initiative, “This article is intended to comprehensively authorize and regulate the retail sale, availability, and marketing of vapor products in the City and County of San Francisco.” 

This language is purposefully obscure.  In fact, many voters may be mislead into thinking that the Juul initiative strengthens e-cigarette regulation in San Francisco.

The truth is just the opposite.  Put into plain language, Juul’s law would preempt and overrule existing laws, including the City’s ban on flavored tobacco products, including e-cigarettes.  (Voters upheld the flavor ban when 68% voted for Proposition E despite a $12 million industry campaign against it.) 

Juul’s initiative would also override the the City’s Tobacco 21 law and pending legislation that would prohibit the sale of e-cigarettes in San Francisco until the FDA issues an order authorizing their sale.  It would also make enforcing youth access laws impossible by requiring that enforcement agencies prove that a retailer “knowingly” sold e-cigs to people under 21.

Rather than making these facts clear, all the City Attorney did was repeat current law and copy the description of the Juul proposal from Juul’s own misleading summary.  No normal person reading the ballot title and summary will understand what this initiative actually does.

At the very end of the ballot title and summary, the City Attorney did quote the Juul initiative, saying “The measure states that is intended to comprehensively authorize and regulate the retail sale, availability, and marketing of vapor products in the City and County of San Francisco,” but even well-educated voters will not know what this really means.

Simply repeating Juul's obscure language, which is designed to hide the real effect of the initiative, is not being fair to both sides or, for that matter, the public.

The City Attorney’s poor drafting will make it even easier for Juul to sell this initiative as protecting kids while it really protects Juul.


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