The ink is barely dry on the ban on menthol cigarettes and flavored tobacco products that San Francisco supervisors passed unanimously in late June, but the tobacco industry is firing back with cartons of cash in what appears to be a massively well-funded effort. District 10 Supervisor Malia Cohen’s ban on menthols, flavored chewing tobacco, and flavored liquid vape products is set to take effect on April 1, 2018, but the Chronicle reports that a conglomerate of tobacco companies already has a big-money referendum in the works to snuff the measure and they’re reportedly paying a gaudy $5 per signature to petition signature-gatherers who will presumably hit the streets any minute now.
The effort against the flavored tobacco ban is as much the opposite of “grassroots” as is possible. This is a primarily out-of-town operation, ironically called Let’s Be Real, San Francisco, whose website is called AdultsLikeFlavors.org, and draws its primary funding from R.J. Reynolds and Philip Morris (who now prefer to be called Altria Client Services). The effort is coordinated by a San Rafael-based law firm called Nielsen Merksamer, but in a press release describe themselves more as “a coalition that supports San Francisco’s long-standing spirit of not restricting choices or telling responsible adults what they can and cannot do.”
This “coalition” has only 30 days to collect 20,000 signatures, which seems pretty daunting. But they’re paying that five bucks per signature according to the Examiner, so that should help. I’m just going to hope the Department of Elections verifies those signatures carefully.
“This petition shows that they are desperate,” Sup. Malia Cohen told the Chronicle. “My legislation threatens the sale of their products, including Newport cigarettes, the No. 2 brand for all cigarette sales in the U.S. and the No. 1 brand in menthol sales.”
If the referendum is successful in getting those signatures, the flavored tobacco ban is suspended and the supes would vote on it again. They can repeal it, or if not, the referendum would be put on the June 2018 Primary Election ballot.
Such a campaign would recall the carpet-bombing of mailers and marketing that inundated voters in previous Soda Tax and Airbnb ad campaigns. “What they want to do is not just beat this ballot measure in San Francisco,” political consultant Jim Ross told the Examiner. “They want to send a message to other counties that they’re going to spend boatloads of money to make sure the measure fails.”
And other counties are already following San Francisco’s lead and stepping off the tobacco lobby’s reservation. CBS 5 reports that Contra Costa County Board of Supervisors also approved a flavored tobacco ban Tuesday night. That measure could go into effect as early as mid-August.