Pro and anti-vaping groups debate over language in voters' guide

The Ballot Simplification Committee works on the wording of the digest that voters will have available as they make their decision on how to vote in November.

The process of picking the wording about how voters will learn about ballot initiatives is normally dry and doesn't draw much attention, but it drew both sides of the vaping debate to City Hall on Tuesday. The consensus: words matter. 

In June, the Board of Supervisors banned the sale of vaping products in the city on top of an already existing ban on flavored tobacco products.

Now, San Francisco-based Juul is backing an initiative to take the issue directly to the voters.

"Not only does this not overturn the flavor ban," said Ashley Gould, Chief Administrative Officer at Juul. "It builds additional regulation in and would create the nation's strongest regulation of vaping products."

However, initiative opponents say, don't be fooled. They say the initiative is being written by big tobacco and are calling it a Trojan Horse.

"I think the question San Francisco voters are going to have to ask is, do we trust big tobacco's e-cigarette play to write the entirety of regulation in San Francisco for e-cigarettes?" said Matt Dorsey from SF Kids Vs Big Tobacco.

Attorneys for both sides were carefully watching the Ballot Simplification Committee work on the wording voters will read before they make their decisions. 

"When there's mischaracterization of the effect of the initiative, which is what the City Attorney has proposed here claiming that it repeals the flavor ban, it's very important to reflect that,' said Jim Sutton attorney for the Coalition for Reasonable Vaping Regulation.

"It's very cleverly written," said Lance Olson attorney for SF Kids Vs Big Tobacco. "It's designed so that they preserve the argument later on that, ‘Hey, oh by the way that flavor ban on flavored tobacco products including electronic cigarettes are really not banned.'"

The pro-vaping side is asking City Attorney Dennis Herrera to recuse himself from the usual process of writing the first draft of ballot digests saying he's an outspoken opponent of vaping.

The city attorney's office responded saying there is no conflict of interest and that the simplification committee works carefully on wording to make sure voters get clear, unbiased information.

The wording of that voter digest is expected to be finalized before the end of the month.