San Francisco may ban e-cigarettes over unknown health risks

San Francisco may become the first US city to ban electronic cigarettes, also called 'vapes,' until more information about their potential long-term health effects are known. Some past preliminary studies have highlighted potential health concerns related to liquid nicotine products, including one that found increased risk of wheezing. Critics have lambasted the proposals, however, expressing concerns that it may drive some people back to tobacco cigarettes.

Electronic cigarettes have exploded in popularity over the past few years, spawning increasingly simple, sophisticated models that can be easily carried throughout the day. Critics have targeted the unknown long-term health effects of these devices, as well as a growing number of young users, as two major issues that need addressed.

The FDA has taken steps to target companies that market or otherwise provide e-cigarette devices to minors, and a growing body of research has looked into the health effects of vaping. Some preliminary research has highlighted possible respiratory issues related to e-cigs, including lung inflammation and wheezing in adults.

Officials from New York, Chicago, and San Francisco have sent a joint letter to the FDA calling for the agency to investigate the public health effects of electronic cigarettes. San Francisco may take the step to ban e-cigarettes altogether, though critics point out that regular tobacco cigarettes are still available for purchase in the city.

In a statement posted on San Francisco City Attorney Dennis Herrera's website, officials said the proposal wouldn't introduce an "outright ban" on electronic cigarettes, but instead target models that haven't been reviewed by the FDA. At this time, however, no electronic cigarettes have been reviewed by the agency, meaning all products would — for now, at least — be banned in San Francisco.