We warned you back in November, and now it's official: After an unanimous vote at the Board of Supervisors Tuesday, San Francisco will soon raise the age one is allowed to purchase tobacco products from 18 to 21.
The law, which takes effect on June 1 of this year, will prohibit tobacco purveyors from selling anyone under the age of 21 cigarettes, pipe tobacco, and, yes, e-cigs and vaping products — as District 8 Supe Scott Wiener, who sponsored the legislation, told us last year, in 2014, "under legislation authored by Supervisor Mar, e-cigarettes were classified as cigarettes under our Municipal Code." So that's out too, kids.
The law will not criminalize the possession of tobacco products by the under-21 crowd, Wiener emphasizes, just the purchase thereof.
In a press release sent by Wiener's office late Tuesday, they note that "San Francisco becomes the second largest city in the country, after New York City, to set the tobacco purchasing age at 21" and that "Earlier this year the State of Hawaii raised the tobacco purchase age to 21."
The NorCal city of Healdsburg raised the purchase age to 21 in 2014, but backed down from that stance after repeated legal threats from the National Association of Tobacco Outlets. Santa Clara County has also raised the limit to 21, in a law that kicked in at the beginning of 2016, and Berkeley's city council approved an increase to 21 on January 26 of this year.
Thomas Briant, executive director of the NATO, claims that San Francisco cannot make the decision to raise the limit on its own, and must wait for a statewide ruling from Attorney General Kamala Harris before pre-empting state law.
Wiener clearly disagreed Tuesday, saying that “To be clear, our law does not in any way interfere with or undermine state law. In fact, it makes the state law easier to enforce.”
At the Supes meeting Tuesday, Wiener seemed to suggest that tobacco industry opponents bring their opposition on, as "Our city has a history of taking on major industries in the name of public health, in the name of consumers, and winning."
Wiener is likely referring to the suit Philip Morris USA filed against SF back in 2008, when the Supes voted to ban tobacco sales in pharmacies in 2008. The tobacco company dropped that suit in October, 2009.
Briant also takes issue with the age limit as it relates to when one is an adult, repeating as he has in the past that "18-year-olds are adults when it comes to voting, serving in the military or signing a contract — and smoking should be no different."
But Wiener clearly believes that the law's potential to save lives supersedes that argument, saying via press release that "studies have shown that over 90% of smokers begin before the age of 21."
"In 2009, Congress mandated a federal study as part of the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act to research the effects of raising the tobacco purchase age. Conducted by the Institute of Medicine, and released in early 2015, the study found that increasing the tobacco purchase age from 18 to 21 would decrease national smoking rates by 12% and reduce youth initiation of smoking by 25%," Wiener's press release states.
San Francisco's legislation would allow a one-year grace period for tobacco sellers, during which they will be reminded of the law with mailers, on-site visits, stickers and notices from SF's Department of Public Health. Those caught selling to 18-20-year olds during that year would be hit with a warning. After that year, the offenders could have their ability to sell tobacco products to anyone suspended or revoked.