The campaign to keep e-cigarettes, flavored tobacco and other vaping products in the city of Livermore may be at risk of losing its biggest supporter with the announcement that JUUL Labs has officially ended its active support of a similar initiative measure in San Francisco.
JUUL, which is based in San Francisco, spearheaded the signature-gathering effort this summer for a referendum petition to challenge the Livermore City Council's ordinance to ban flavored tobacco sales and implement other anti-vaping regulations.
The petition garnered enough signatures from Livermore voters to force council members' hand, and they opted to place the vaping referendum on a special election ballot for March 2020 rather than rescind their ordinance.
But now, JUUL's once-active role in the Livermore debate is unclear after the company pulled out of San Francisco's Proposition C campaign last week. Regardless of the company's participation going forward, the Livermore referendum has already been confirmed for the primary election ballot.
While JUUL company has not officially stated one way or the other if it will continue seeking to overturn the city's attempted prohibition on the sale of vapor products within city limits, Livermore officials are unsure if the company will continue their campaign.
"The referendum for Livermore is still several months away so they still have plenty of time to make their decision," Livermore Mayor John Marchand told the Weekly. "I have spoken with a representative from 'Flavors Hook Kids' who suggested that the move (to withdraw from supporting Proposition C) may be a strategy by JUUL to create a monopoly in San Francisco in the event that the FDA eventually approves their vaping devices."
JUUL officials announced on Sept. 30 they would no longer be supporting Proposition C -- a JUUL-sponsored initiative measure to authorize the sale and specific regulation of e-cigarettes and other vaping products in San Francisco -- but did not elaborate on why.
"We must strive to work with regulators, policymakers and other stakeholders, and earn the trust of the societies in which we operate. That includes inviting an open dialogue, listening to others and being responsive to their concerns," JUUL CEO K.C. Crosthwaite said in a statement announcing the decision.
JUUL first came into conflict with Livermore's City Council when the Bay Area-based company supported a petition seeking to repeal the city's prohibition of the sale of vaping products in Livermore
Each City Council member has publicly opposed the petition, saying not only do vaping products target young people and kids but that petition takers actively mislead or outright lied to residents while collecting signatures.
"The City Council listened to many community members, parents, teachers, and students who were concerned about the growing vaping crisis. In response the council passed the ordinance based on input from the community," Marchand summarized. "JUUL then hired an army of signature gatherers who lied to voters to get thousands of signatures in order to repeal the council's action."
The council reluctantly certified the validity of the petition during its regular meeting on Sept. 9, but decided to let voters have the final say on the issue and set a special election for March 3 -- which, though a primary election date in California, it is considered a special election for Livermore because its regular municipal elections occur in November.
After the petition was validated the city's ordinance has been put on hold until the issue can be resolved by voters.