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Bay Area politicians eye flavor ban

Anyone who’s been vaping for a while knows that while California is home to some of the world’s best juice mixers, and has a lively vape shop scene, the state’s legislators and public health officials are some of the most hostile people on the planet. There’s nowhere that’s more true than in San Francisco Bay, the former counterculture capital of the world that’s now slowly turning into a sort of Islamic State with chai latte. If it’s fun, and isn’t marijuana, the politicians don’t want to have it.

Vaping has been a regular target of Bay Area legislators and their obsessive control freakery. E-cigarettes have been added to the city’s existing smoking ban, so if you want to vape on a night out you’re forced to stand by the curb and inhale a nice lungful of exhaust fumes every time you take a puff. Steep taxes add 30% or more to the price of a bottle of liquid. And now there’s a move to ban all flavored e-liquids.

San Francisco’s Board of Supervisors have recently proposed a new law that would ban the sale of all flavored tobacco products in the city. Sponsored by Supervisor Malia Cohen, the claimed objective of the law is to reduce smoking among young people and minorities. It’s an ambitious proposal, and unlike many other flavor bans it doesn’t exempt menthol cigarettes. In fact it doesn’t exempt anything at all. If it’s a tobacco product, and it’s flavored, Cohen’s law will ban it.

And, of course, e-liquid is classed as a tobacco product.

This law is a perfect example of why defining vapor products as tobacco just doesn’t work. The theory behind banning flavored tobacco is that the flavors – especially menthol – mask the harsh taste, making it more pleasant for young people to use the products. Some advocates say, “Tobacco should taste like tobacco.” It’s not exactly an unchallenged theory, but at least it does make sense.

It also doesn’t affect all that many people. Before the FDA banned non-menthol flavored cigarettes a few years ago they had a tiny share of the market, and children aren’t buying a lot of flavored wraps either. Despite the scaremongering from public health groups and politicians flavored tobacco, with the exception of menthol, really isn’t that big a thing.

Obviously, with e-liquid it’s totally different. If it isn’t flavored it doesn’t taste of tobacco, because there’s no tobacco in it. Even Black Note liquids use specially extracted natural tobacco flavors – there’s no whole tobacco in them. So what this means is that almost all e-liquid will be affected by the proposed ban. If it’s passed, all you’ll be able to buy in San Francisco is unflavored liquid. There are some people who vape that, but very few of them. The fact is, for most of us flavors are a huge part of the vaping experience.

Cohen’s law wouldn’t make it illegal to possess flavored liquid, but it would be a massive blow to the city’s vape shops. For most vendors, liquids make up the bulk of their business; if they aren’t allowed to sell anything flavored then sales are going to collapse, and it’s unlikely many of them would survive that.

Of course it will still be possible to buy flavored juice outside San Francisco, although if you do that you’re then responsible for paying the tobacco tax to the city (as a Brit I find this bizarre, but never mind). Most vapers probably won’t bother with that, and it’s unlikely to be enforced all that heavily anyway, but it’s another inconvenience.

Then there’s the annoying fact that if you want to get flavored liquid from a B&M store it could be a pretty long drive. Oakland, San Leandro, Los Gatos, Palo Alto and Contra Costa Counties are already talking about following San Francisco’s lead on this, and if they go ahead most of the Bay Area will become a flavor-free zone. Unfortunately it seems like local governments are competing to see who can pass the strictest laws. Especially in California, a lot of people seem very heavily invested in being “a leader in tobacco control” – and they don’t care if the laws they pass make any sense, as long as they’re strict.

If these laws are passed they’ll probably wipe out most vape shops in the Bay Area – and getting them through will just embolden the people behind them. If they get away with this, who knows what comes next? Actually we can guess. Even more tax, for one. More extensive bans, for another. Laguna Beach has already made it illegal to vape anywhere except in your car or your home. That’s a massive challenge to the rest of California’s hyper-competitive legislators, so expect them to throw a lot of resources at going even further.     


  • Jun 24, 2017

    Rob Smith

    yet we have to accept all the other pervertion that sf encourage or support, but vaping is prohibited?

    • Jul 3, 2017


      Hi Rob,

      No. Vaping won’t be prohibited. It’s the flavors that will be banned. Any flavor except tobacco.

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