By:  Elizabeth Chuck

San Francisco’s ban on electronic cigarettes is an “insane public policy,” some public health experts say, arguing that the city should ban all tobacco products instead.

The criticism came after San Francisco on Tuesday became the first major city in the United States to ban e-cigarettes. The ban, which will go into effect 30 days after the mayor signs the ordinance, was approved by city supervisors who cited the “growing health epidemic of youth vaping” in their decision.

E-cigarette use has undeniably soared among youth, alarming public health officials: 20.8 percent of high school students reported in 2018 that they had used the vaping devices within the past 30 days, compared to 1.5 percent in 2011, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The CDC says e-cigarettes are not safe for children and teens, but adds that they have “potential to benefit adult smokers who are not pregnant if used as a complete substitute for regular cigarettes and other smoked tobacco products.”

Still, the long-term effects of vaping devices are unknown, particularly on youth who smoke them. They contain the addictive substance nicotine but far fewer of the toxins that combustible cigarettes have.

While e-cigarettes are generally understood to be less harmful than cigarettes or cigars, many parents, school administrators and pediatricians have expressed concern that the way e-cigarettes deliver nicotine is negatively affecting the development of teens’ brains, particularly because they can deliver a higher dose more quickly than traditional cigarettes can.

But some public health experts feel banning them altogether like San Francisco alienates an entire population of adult cigarette smokers who are trying to quit and need an alternative.

“We’re taking the risk of addiction among kids,” said Kenneth Warner, a professor emeritus at the University of Michigan of Public Health, “and comparing that with the immediate danger of smoking-related illness and death in smokers who have not been able to quit otherwise and who might be able to quit with vaping.”

Warner cited a New England Journal of Medicine study from January 2019 that found among smokers in a smoking cessation clinic trying to quit traditional cigarettes, nearly double the number of people — 18 percent versus 9.9 percent — who used vaping over nicotine-replacement products such as gum or patches were able to quit. Other studies have concluded there isn’t enough evidence yet to say whether e-cigarettes are an effective long-term aid to quit smoking.

“If the board of supervisors were interested in public health, they would prohibit the sale of cigarettes in San Francisco.”