San Francisco Moves to Stop Online E-Cigarette Purchases

Lawmakers agree to outlaw e-cig deliveries into the city starting in January.

August 01, 2019

SAN FRANCISCO—Starting in January, San Francisco officials will begin enforcing a new e-cigarette law that prohibits the sale of e-cigarettes in the city, both in person and online, reports the San Francisco Chronicle. The city said the ban will be in effective until the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) reviews the health risks of vaping, which isn’t expected until 2022.

This week, San Francisco’s board of supervisors passed the legislation, and the mayor is expected to sign it within 10 days. Lawmakers are particularly concerned with preventing e-cigarette use among young people and have said that the number of teens who had tried vaping at least once rose by 1.5 million from 2017 to 2018.

While stopping retail e-cig sales may possible, preventing e-cigs from being purchased and delivered to a city resident will be challenging. The Constitution, federal laws and court decisions prevent local governments from regulating interstate commerce, and carriers such as UPS and FedEx that deliver packages. Local officials are limited to targeting retailers directly, a time-consuming endeavor.

City Attorney Dennis Herrera, who co-wrote the e-cigarette legislation with Supervisor Shamann Walton, has not revealed what enforcement tactics or resources the city plans to devote to the effort. “San Francisco has a successful track record of ensuring that unlawful products aren’t bought online and shipped here,” said John Coté, a spokesman for Herrera.

A spokesperson for Juul, the San Francisco vaping company that dominates the U.S. e-cigarette market, has said it will stop shipping its products to San Francisco addresses to comply with the new ordinance.

At least 11 states have legislation preventing tobacco shipments to residences, but those rules apply mostly to traditional cigarettes, not e-cigarettes. Amazon and eBay forbid the sale of e-cigarettes on their websites; if merchants are found to be offering any illegal products on the sites, the companies may suspend their accounts.

Of the $9 billion in revenue that e-cigarettes and vaping products are expected to generate in the United States by the end of 2019, about $6.4 billion (72%) will come from physical locations like convenience and drugstores, while $2.6 billion (28%) will be generated online and at other sources, according to a research report by Wells Fargo Securities.

As NACS Daily has reported in the past, NACS supports updating the Prevent All Cigarette Trafficking Act (PACT) to cover e-cigarettes. The PACT Act, which became law in 2010, regulates the mailing of cigarettes and smokeless tobacco products to consumers through the U.S. Postal Service and includes requirements for registration, reporting, delivery and recordkeeping of any transactions.