SAN FRANCISCO (KPIX 5) — Smokers in San Francisco on Thursday gathered to mount a push to fight a ban on flavored tobacco products.
San Francisco Supervisors approved the ban last year, but now the issue is on the June ballot. One group told KPIX 5 there is more to the ban than just public health.
Dozens of people gathered on the steps of city hall Thursday morning, chanting “No on E! No on E!” They were rallying to fight for their right to choose to smoke.
“We just legalized marijuana. Now you want to ban menthol cigarettes?” asked Shawn Richard, who was against the flavored tobacco ban. “I mean come on. For real? That doesn’t make any sense.”
These smokers want San Franciscans to vote no on Proposition E because the proposition would ban the sale of menthol cigarettes, flavored vaping liquid and other flavored tobacco products inside city limits.
Some argue the band specifically targets minority communities.
“African Americans and people of color mostly smoke menthol cigarettes and vapor products,” said Richard.
But Supervisor London Breed says it doesn’t have anything to do with race.
“Tobacco kills. Period,” said Breed. “And that’s what this is about; making sure that these products that harm our communities, that destroy lives in our communities, are no longer welcomed in our neighborhoods.”
When asked why the ban focuses on just these products, Breed replied, “These products are specifically targeted at young people. These are products are specifically targeted to the African American community.”
Supporters of the ban say the flavored products target kids because of the colorful packaging designed to look like familiar cookie and candy brands.
But users of the products argue it should be a personal choice.
“It’s legal to smoke, so why limit what the product is that you can or can’t smoke?” asked smoker Derek Rollinson.
“Maybe that’s their issue, is to drive us out of the city,” said smoker James Chinn. “Who would want to live in a city where you can’t even find your brand of cigarettes?”
“How you gonna ban menthol cigarettes in the hood? Yeah, everybody smokes menthol cigarettes,” said smoker Sopheas Knox.
The debate started last year when the San Francisco Board of Supervisors voted unanimously in favor of the ban. But before it could go into effect, smokers got enough financial support from big tobacco and gathered enough signatures on petitions to force the ban onto the June ballot.
Voters will decide on the issue in two months.