San Francisco Eyes Menthol Cigarette Ban

SAN FRANCISCO — This California city may do what the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has been reviewing for several years: prohibit the sale of menthol cigarettes.

San Francisco Supervisor Malia Cohen introduced legislation that would restrict the sale of flavored tobacco, including menthol, to the Board of Supervisors. She unveiled the proposal on the steps of City Hall on April 18.

San Francisco Supervisor Ahsha Safai‏ co-sponsored the ordinance, which has been endorsed by Mayor Ed Lee, according to the San Francisco Examiner.

"It's time for us to focus on flavor," Cohen said. "Restricting the sale of flavored tobacco is vital to ensuring that we give the next generation a fighting chance, a fighting chance of living a healthy, full life otherwise cut short by preventable diseases."

If approved, the San Francisco ban would apply to the sale of tobacco products like menthol cigarettes, flavored cigars, flavored smokeless tobacco and flavored e-liquids.

"The disproportionate use of menthol cigarettes among targeted groups, especially the extremely high use among African-Americans, is troubling because of the long-term adverse health impacts on those groups," according to Cohen's legislation.

A similar measure was introduced in nearby Oakland in May 2016. Oakland City Councilwoman Annie Campbell Washington, who co-authored the proposal in Oakland, attended Tuesday's announcement in San Francisco to show her support, the news outlet reported.

"We first took on big soda and succeeded and now we are taking on big tobacco together," she added, referring to a successful soda tax measure placed on the San Francisco ballot in November by Cohen and a similar measure that Oakland voters also approved in the election.

If approved, the San Francisco law would go into effect in January. Retailers that violate the law could have their tobacco sales permit suspended.

Currently, the federal regulation prohibits the sale of flavored cigarettes, excluding menthol — one of the first moves the FDA made after receiving regulatory authority over tobacco products as a result of the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act of 2009.

The agency soon took up the issue of menthol and the FDA's Tobacco Product Scientific Advisory Committee endorsed the ban of menthol in a report in 2011. However, U.S. District Court Judge Richard Leon in Washington, D.C., barred the agency from using the report in 2014 due to conflict of interest concerns, as CSNews Onlinepreviously reported.

A three-judge panel overturned that ruling on appeal in January 2016. However, to date, the FDA has not taken any action on menthol. The agency also did not address the issue of other flavored tobacco products in its final deeming rule, which went into effect in August. The deeming rule extends the agency's authority to electronic cigarettes, cigars, hookah tobacco and pipe tobacco.