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San Francisco’s mantra: ‘All smokers are equal but some smokers are more equal than others’

San Francisco’s Summer of Love is long dead.

Back in 1967 the mantra on the streets in The City by the Bay was anything goes. It led to the creation of a progressive political movement that eventually captured city politics. San Francisco for decades led the way in getting government out of people’s lives. It is the city that defied state law and gave the nation same sex marriage. If you are a true libertarian or either a conservative or liberal that cherishes personal freedom and choice, San Francisco was edgy but true to the concept of adults being able to chart their own course as long as they didn’t run roughshod over someone else’s rights.

In 1967 some 33.7 percent of the San Francisco electorate was registered as Republican and 59.2 percent Democrat. By 2016 the GOP numbers had dropped to 9.2 percent and the Democratic registration hit a record 84.5 percent. It was also the year that a significant movement was launched in The City to deny Nancy Pelosi reelection because she wasn’t liberal enough.

In recent years San Francisco has been channeling George Orwell’s “Animal Farm”. The city state of San Francisco seems dedicated these days to the edict “all animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others” as proclaimed by the pigs in Orwell’s “Animal Farm” writings that were a cutting satire of Stalin and the Soviet regime. One wonders what Orwell — a fervent democratic socialist — would think of the state of San Francisco politics as of late.

San Francisco — whose Haight-Asbury neighborhood became synonymous with LSD use in the 1960s along with a boatload of other behavior that powers that be at the time recoiled at — in recent years has been leading the nanny state charge with an “Animal Farm” twist.

The City of San Francisco’s effort to ban e-cigarettes is a perfect example of where San Francisco is headed.

The supervisors are expected to hold a final vote today that will make it the first city in the United States to ban e-cigarettes. The ordinance prohibits the sale (including on-line), distribution or manufacture of e-cigarettes in San Francisco.

This is being justified because “young people” have taken to vaping because it has been portrayed by  purveyors of e-cigarettes as being fashionable. It seems an awful lot like the rationale behind the 1906 federal Pure Food and Drug Act that sought to put the screws to the “fashionable narcotic” that recreational cannabis had become among some segments of the American population that ranged from the so-called “better classes” to Mexican-Americans.

The justification for the ban is that vaping is a threat to one’s health.

If that is the case, why doesn’t the San Francisco Board of Supervisors have the courage of their convictions and call for the ban on the sale, distribution, and production of not just e-cigarettes but all tobacco products including cigarettes, cigars and chewing tobacco?

It’s probably the same logic that drove Orwell’s pigs in “Animal Farm”. First you cull off the weakest part of the population. And then you make exceptions under the “all animals are equal but some animals are more equal than others” doctrine.

If you doubt that consider the observation made last week by Gregory Conley after the initial supervisors’ vote favoring the e-cigarette ban. Conley is president of the non-profit American Vaping Association that promotes the use of e-cigarettes over regular cigarettes.

Conley noted, “In the short term, this vote is unlikely to mean much, as San Francisco has never had a large population of vapers, and the city previously banned all vaping products in flavors other than tobacco.”

What San Francisco does have is Juul — the world’s dominate manufacturer and seller of e-cigarettes — that earlier this month bought s 28-story building in San Francisco for their corporate headquarters. While the ban won’t impact the Juul headquarters given they will not per se, distribute or manufacturer e-cigarettes at their headquarters, nothing quite says welcome to San Francisco as the political class damning what you do.

Studies by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention do show that teen use of nicotine products was on the upswing in 2017 and 2018 after years of decline. E-cigarettes were found to be the most popular choice of nicotine among teens. The CDC also says cancer caused by cigarettes kills 400,000 people in this country a year. At the same time while vaping’s long-term effects haven’t been pinned down, the Surgeon General’s position on nicotine is clear — using it can harm one’s attention, memory, and ability to learn.

It sounds a bit like marijuana without the same weight of being linked to cancer as tobacco.

The question needs to be asked: If the San Francisco Board of Supervisors is doing the ban on e-cigarettes to “save” people from making bad choices because it contains nicotine, why are they giving tobacco a pass?

Personally I abhor tobacco and marijuana. That said I have no desire to force other adults not to use either as long as their use doesn’t interfere with my rights or force me to breathe in what they smoke. I probably have as many concerns, if not more, about the use of tobacco than the San Francisco supervisors and certainly more than they do about marijuana.

What I don’t get is how you can justify activating the heavy arm of government regulation to outright ban the sale, distribution, and manufacture of e-cigarettes but not do the same for tobacco products?

Then there is the question of making selling or distributing even one e-cigarette for all practical purposes essentially a misdemeanor with a $1,000 fine plus other penalties. Isn’t that what California did for more than a few years in the run up to legalizing recreational marijuana?

An adult in San Francisco will still be quite capable of using the Internet to order e-cigarettes and have them delivered. If the city believes the Postal Service will zealously enforce the city’s ban, they are forgetting that they have refused to enforce federal immigration laws. Any takers on how the courts might rule on a city being able to regulate items that Amazon can sell or any other company? It could be treated like fireworks where some jurisdictions outlaw their use. But if you think that is effective, ponder your position while you are serenaded to sleep in the coming week by banned illegal fireworks, which, by the way are sold openly on the streets of San Francisco’s Chinatown despite the city and/or state outlawing the sale, distribution and manufacture of certain fireworks.

They could also just take a stroll across the city limits into Daly City, Brisbane, or South San Francisco to buy e-cigarettes and bring them into The City for personal use.

But what if they give an e-cigarette to someone else? That means there is a law on the books the vice squad could use to go after those essentially scorned by the political powers that be much like happened in San Francisco 50 years ago when the laws were used to go after gays gathering in clubs and bars.

Of course, this won’t happen, right? But the real problem is the message it sends. Users of e-cigarettes are essentially being relegated to deviant status in the “open minded” city of San Francisco while tobacco users that inflict serious damage with second hand smoke are free to buy, distribute and manufacture cigarettes.

All smokers are equal but some smokers are more equal than others. This is progressive politics, San Francisco style circa 2019.  

This column is the opinion of executive editor, Dennis Wyatt, and does not necessarily represent the opinion of The Bulletin or Morris Newspaper Corp. of CA.  He can be contacted at or 209.249.3519.