MINNEAPOLIS -- Last week, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors voted unanimously to ban the sale of all flavored tobacco products, including menthol cigarettes, menthol, mint and wintergreen tobacco products, flavored e-cigarette/vapor products, flavored cigars and flavored pipe tobacco. The ordinance is scheduled to go into effect in April 2018, and it affects every kind of retailer that is licensed to sell tobacco products in San Francisco.
A significant industry effort was undertaken to oppose the ordinance, because the breadth of the ordinance would have a devastating economic effect on retailers that sell tobacco products. With tobacco-product sales accounting for up to 36% of in-store sales for an average convenience store, being prohibited from selling all flavored-tobacco products, including menthol cigarettes, would likely mean that retail jobs will be lost and a substantial number of stores could be forced to close.
However, with the passage of the San Francisco flavor-ban ordinance, a new coalition called Let’s Be Real San Francisco has been formed to launch an effort to gather signatures from San Francisco voters to require the city’s Board of Supervisors to place a referendum question on an election ballot next year. Under the city’s code, a 30-day period is allowed to collect a sufficient number of voters' signatures for a referendum question.
In the event that the required number of signatures is obtained, there are three different outcomes that the San Francisco Board of Supervisors could consider. First, schedule the referendum vote for the next regular primary election that is planned for June 5, 2018. Second, set a special election date earlier than the June 5, 2018, primary election date. However, San Francisco would need to cover the cost of a special election separate from the scheduled June 5, 2018, primary election. Third, the Board of Supervisors could consider repealing the flavor-ban ordinance.
The Let’s Be Real San Francisco coalition is comprised of concerned residents, business leaders, retailers and trade associations, including NATO. Securing the needed number of signatures for a referendum question to be placed on the ballot is a significant task, but one that is being taken in an attempt to protect the right of retailers to sell lawful products and the right of legal-age adults to purchase legal tobacco products.