A week after the Livermore became the second city in the nation to approve a ban on the sale of vaping products at retail stores, Juul Labs Inc. formed a committee to defeat the law.
Juul, a giant San Francisco startup, gave on the same day the Coalition for Reasonable Vaping Regulation in Livermore $100,000 to get the job done, according to the most recent campaign finance records filed with the city.
Juul ultimately withdrew efforts to defeat Livermore’s e-cigarette ban in October, amid growing concerns about the unknown health risks of vaping. The company’s swift initial response came before intense public scrutiny and federal efforts to regulate the e-cigarette market gained traction.
“Since Juul immediately filed an initiative to fight San Francisco's ordinance, we knew there was a likelihood they would fight ours,” said Kristie Wang, of Flavors Addict Kids-Livermore. “Fortunately, our City Council decided to proceed anyway because they knew it was the right thing to do for Livermore's children. We decided we would fight if we had to, even against the formidable resources of Big Tobacco.”
San Francisco’s ban on vaping product sales was adopted by the Board of Supervisors less than a month before the Livermore City Council passed its ban. The company spent more than $15 million on its campaign to defeat the San Francisco law before ending financial support for its campaign in September.
According to the campaign disclosure forms in Livermore, more than $90,000 of Juul’s $100,000 contribution was paid to Goco Consulting of Reno, Nev. for circulating petitions; another $2,000 for petition gathering went to The Monaco Group of Santa Ana, Calif.; and around $3,000 was paid to The Sutton Law Firm in San Francisco for legal and accounting services.
The signature gathering campaign was successful and resulted in enough signatures to qualify for a referendum. The challenge to Livermore’s ordinance was scheduled for the March 2020 ballot, but was pulled after Juul abandoned its efforts and the original Livermore resident named on the petition requested that the city withdraw the measure.
Wang and two other Livermore moms with teenage children founded the grassroots organization Flavors Addict Kids-Livermore out of concern about the youth vaping problem, the harm it was doing to young children, and the distractions it was causing in schools for students and administrators, Wang said.
They researched and consulted with legal and policy experts, and forged relationships with national tobacco control groups. At the same time, the group began meeting with city leaders to advocate for the strongest ordinance possible aimed at curbing youth access to vaping products.
Livermore Mayor John Marchand said he listened to their concerns and concluded vaping, especially by young people, had become a significant problem. The City Council agreed and unanimously passed the vaping ordinance. It is scheduled to take effect Jan. 1.
“Companies like Juul were engaged in really reprehensible behavior by creating a whole new generation of addicts,” said Marchand. “We realized that we needed to take the lead.”