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San Francisco is the stupidest place in the world to think of the children

by Carl V Phillips

As anyone who follows the news about vaping policy in the U.S. knows, San Francisco is considering banning the sale of all vapes, on the heels of their ban on “flavored” vapes (which, of course, means flavors that are not identified as tobacco-ish or minty [Correction: I was reminded that this particular flavor ban, unlike most, also bans minty and allows only tobacco-ish]). Not at all surprising, the claim is that this ban is all about protecting the chiiiildren.

Amelia Howard had the brilliant insight to realize that San Francisco simply does not have that many children. She checked it out and posted this image on Twitter:

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The density of teenagers in the population of that city is about half the national or state average. If you want to propose legislation that (supposedly!!) benefits children at the expense of adults, that city is one of the worst places to do it. There are cities in California, including in the San Francisco metro, with much higher than average densities of teenagers. So why there?

The answer, of course, is because they could. That is the standard tobacco control playbook: Ban whatever you can, wherever you can, whenever you can, regardless of whether it matters. After this succeeds in one place, start claiming that the ban is the new normal, and the entire rest of the world is therefore failing.

City governments, even those of most big cities, are easy to roll. They lack sufficient staff, dedicated lobbyists, and inertia. (The latter two are typically treated as bad, but lobbyists do provide expertise the politicians lack, and the incrementalism caused by inertia almost always makes better public policy.) City government policies are often the unexamined whim of a single politician. This is why most terrible anti-THR legislation in the U.S. is at the city level (with the exception of taxes — state governments are always looking for more revenue).

San Francisco, of course, is home to the worst enclave of anti-THR campaigners in the country, and possibly the world. All they had to do was capture the attention of one friendly politician to get this on the agenda. Thus, it was the logical choice. By their logic, of course. Ban whatever you can, wherever you can. Never mind that if this were really about protecting children, they would have chosen somewhere else.

The Twitter conversation continued on to the topic of next age group up, those in their 20s, who are hugely over-represented in the city. A large portion of these are the stereotypical hard-driving 80-hour-per-week techies who are probably much more likely than others of their socioeconomic status to smoke and/or vape. So if they cannot vape, what will they do?

In other words, not only is the (supposed) benefit to the children much lower in San Francisco than elsewhere, but the cost to adults is higher. But, of course, this is not about actual benefits, let alone costs.

In fairness, most 25-year-olds living in San Francisco will have the means and skills to go online and get the vapes they want. But, then again, the same is probably true of the 16-year-olds.

The physical presence of government-funded prohibitionists in San Francisco may be a bit of a distraction here. San Francisco would have been a ripe target for them in any case. Vape prohibitions are usually a project of “soccer mom”-types, rich parents who are scandalized by the prospect that their kids might choose to do something that is reminiscent of the drug use that [sneer] those people do. They are domineering parents, and so naturally think that domineering government paternalism is just fine. They are outnumbered by younger potential voters, but they are the ones who actually do vote and who have the luxury of doing citizen lobbying.

A potential upside of this, if it happens, is that some honest researcher could analyze the effects of the resulting natural experiment. It would undoubtedly show no “benefit” (as measured by the goals that tobacco control pretends to support) and the costs might be large enough to be detected. This could already have been done for the ban on flavors. Of course, honest researchers in this area are hard to come by, and funding for them even more so, so this will probably remain only a potential upside.

[Update (the next day): I made this observation about this post on Twitter, but did not think of it before publishing, so I will add it now: “Whatever the benefit/cost ratio of restricting vaping is on average, it is less than half that in San Francisco. Yet that is where tobacco control targeted for a ban. But, sure, go ahead and pretend they are trying to do good.”]

Original author: Carl V Phillips
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