2020 will mark the 100-year anniversary of alcohol Prohibition in the United States – a flawed experiment that lasted for 13 years before being repealed.
The city of San Francisco is about to ignore the lessons of this disastrous experiment, and vote to ban all sales and access to vaping products. But unlike Prohibition, which banned all alcohol, San Francisco’s effort isn’t banning all tobacco products. Rather, the City will continue to allow access to the most harmful use of tobacco, combustible cigarettes.
It’s a very odd message to send: please use carcinogen-laden products that will kill you faster, but by all means, DON’T touch a product that will improve your health and the health of those around you.
Forty million Americans still smoke traditional cigarettes today. That’s after 25 years of aggressive anti-smoking campaigns, tax increases and 10 years of FDA oversight of nicotine. These adult smokers clearly are not going to quit, and the choice of policymakers is to either wait for the 40 million to die or embrace innovation and science to help these smokers and those around them by providing access to new technologies.
As a progressive and adult smoker, I choose the latter and staunchly believe we must give adults an off-ramp from using combustible tobacco.
Policymakers have a responsibility to address access to all nicotine products for young people. No teenager should be permitted to buy, try, test, or experiment with any nicotine delivery device. California has a law that already states that you must be 21 or over to purchase tobacco. That is an appropriate and pragmatic policy.
The science is clear: every adult smoker who switches to a new product like vape or “heat not burn” and away from combustible tobacco is reducing the harmful intake by up to 98%. If all 40 million American smokers switched to these products today, their health would improve, the health of those around them would improve, and our health care costs would be reduced.
These outcomes are not only impressive—they are utterly achievable if we choose to provide age-appropriate adult smokers access to a variety of products. Unfortunately, if you live in San Francisco, the City Supervisors current efforts support one mantra: burn tobacco until you die.
Meanwhile, our friends around the globe are embracing innovation. In Japan in just a few short years they have been able to switch 33% of combustible smokers to heat not burn users. In the United Kingdom, the government runs public service announcements encouraging adult smokers to switch to these less harmful products.
The Royal College of Physicians makes it pretty clear: “Large-scale substitution of e-cigarettes, or other non-tobacco nicotine products, for tobacco smoking has the potential to prevent almost all the harm from smoking in society. Promoting e-cigarettes, [Nicotine Replacement Therapy] and other non-tobacco nicotine products as widely as possible, as a substitute for smoking, is therefore likely to generate significant health gains in the UK”
The city leaders who will vote on this ban should ask themselves if adult smokers deserve a chance at living a better, healthier and longer life by using and embracing innovation, or continuing to suffer the ill effects of burning tobacco. San Francisco is supposed to be a modern-day Mecca of innovation, a hub of the progressive spirit and forward-looking leadership. In a city known worldwide for its ability to change the world, this ban is a regressive move that ignores data, science and the well-being of citizens.