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San Francisco becomes first major US city to ban e-cigarette sales

The legislation does not restrict the use of vaping products – only sales, manufacturing and distribution.

SAN FRANCISCO HAS become the first major US city to effectively ban the sale and manufacturing of electronic cigarettes. 

The city’s legislature unanimously approved an ordinance suspending the sale in shops or online of e-cigarette products that lack approval by federal health authorities. No such approvals currently exist.  

The San Francisco legislation does not restrict the use of vaping products – only sales, manufacturing and distribution.

Backers said the ban was necessary due to the “significant public health consequences” of a “dramatic surge” in e-cigarette use among teenagers.

However, the move triggered a swift backlash from critics who say it could drive former smokers back to conventional cigarettes.

US health authorities have been alarmed by the rise in popularity of e-cigarettes.

The potential health consequences of vaping, including fears it could stunt adolescent development, remain largely unknown, in part because the practice is so new.

In Ireland, the HSE’s advice is that “we don’t yet know how safe they are or if they help people stop smoking”. 

San Francisco is home to market-leading e-cigarette maker Juul.

City Attorney Dennis Herrera, who co-sponsored the ban, said it closed a loophole that the federal US Food and Drug Administration should have tackled long ago.

“E-cigarettes are a product that, by law, are not allowed on the market without FDA review,” he said in a statement after the second and final vote to implement the ban.

“For some reason, the FDA has so far refused to follow the law. If the federal government is not going to act, San Francisco will.”

‘Deadly cigarettes’

San Francisco’s mayor London Breed has 10 days to sign the legislation – which she has said she will do – with the ban due to take effect seven months later.

“We need to take action to protect the health of San Francisco’s youth and prevent the next generation of San Franciscans from becoming addicted to these products,” Breed said in a statement yesterday ahead of the vote.

She added that e-cigarette companies were “targeting our kids in their advertising and getting them hooked on addictive nicotine products”.

But critics say the legislation will make it harder for people seeking alternatives to regular cigarettes.

Juul said in a statement following the vote that the ban would “drive former adult smokers who successfully switched to vapor products back to deadly cigarettes, deny the opportunity to switch for current adult smokers, and create a thriving black market”.

Ireland’s stance

In February, the HSE included a section section on vaping on its official website for the first time. 

However, it noted that the decision does not represent a change in government policy, but followed a reevaluation of information provided on the site. 

In Ireland, government policy on tobacco control is set out in Tobacco Free Ireland (2013).  At the time of drafting, it noted that there was a lack of research in relation to e-cigarettes, their long-term safety and their role as a stop smoking support.

Current government policy does not identify a role for e-cigarettes in tobacco control in Ireland, according to the HSE.

The new section, added on 12 February, stresses that as e-cigarettes are fairly new more work needs to be done to figure out whether they’re safe to help people quit smoking, and goes on to recommend nicotine replacement therapy as a primary course of action. 

The appearance of the new section followed the publication of major new study on vaping which found that e-cigarettes were twice as effective as nicotine patches or gum at helping people quit smoking traditional cigarettes.

The report in the New England Journal of Medicine found that 18% of smokers who switched to vaping devices were able to steer clear of cigarettes for one year, compared to 9.9% of people who relied on nicotine replacement therapies.

However, people who switched to vaping were far more likely to keep vaping, indicating they may have exchanged one nicotine delivery device for another, without ever beating their addiction.

Health watchdog body Hiqa found in a 2017 report that there was “insufficient evidence at present to reliably demonstrate their [e-cigarettes] effectiveness as an aid to stop smoking”. 

It also raised concerns about the “social normalisation” of e-cigarettes leading to increased uptake among people who have never smoked, or later migration to tobacco cigarettes. 

Health Minister Simon Harris said in answer to a parliamentary question prior to February that his department was “actively monitoring publications by authoritative bodies internationally on the use of e-cigarettes as a smoking cessation tool”. 

Includes reporting by  - © AFP 2019

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