San Francisco is getting closer to an e-cigarette ban to protect kids, but it may hurt adult smokers who use vaping to quit

San Francisco is getting closer to banning the sale of e-cigarettes in the city in a bid to prevent minors from accessing them—but the new legislation may also hurt adult smokers who are trying to quit cigarettes. The city’s Board of Supervisors today voted unanimously to approve two proposals: legislation that would ban the sale or delivery of e-cigarettes in San Francisco and a separate proposal that would prohibit the sale, manufacturing and distribution of tobacco products, including e-cigarettes, on property owned or managed by the city.

The bill to ban the sale of e-cigarettes at stores in the city, as well as the delivery of e-cigarettes purchased online for delivery to San Francisco addresses, still requires final approval. If it passes (a likely outcome since the board voted 11-0 to pass the ordinance), it will go into effect seven months after it is signed by the mayor. Juul, which is headquartered in San Francisco, has already started lobbying to stop the ban.

The second proposed ordinance to ban the sale of e-cigarettes on city property will require two readings and needs to pass a second vote next week before it can be put into effect. It seems designed to take aim at Juul, since the company’s headquarters are in city-owned buildings at Pier 70. (Juul recently bought an office tower on Mission Street, but says it plans to keep its headquarters at Pier 70.)

Many of the most serious concerns over vaping center on underage use. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s research shows the number of middle and high school students who use tobacco products grew from 3.6 million in 2017 to 4.9 million in 2018. The increase was driven in part by e-cigarette use, which rose from 2.1 million in 2017 to 3.6 million in 2018 among middle and high school students.

The use of e-cigarettes by minors is indisputably harmful, especially because nicotine, which is derived from tobacco plants, can harm brain development. Juul, which controls three-fourths of the U.S. e-cigarette market according to Nielsen, has also been accused of contributing to the increase in tobacco product use among teens by lowering the barrier to entry for nicotine addiction. It is currently trying to win favor with regulators by taking steps to prevent underage users from accessing their products.

But a ban on the sale of e-cigarettes may also hurt adults who use vaping as a smoking cessation aid. While many vape juices contain nicotine, some are also available without the highly addictive chemical. Juul has drawn fire for only offering pods that contain nicotine, but vapers also use refillable devices to gradually transition to juices with lower levels of nicotine, with some ultimately weaning themselves off dependency.

While the negative impact of both nicotine and cigarettes have been well documented, vaping is a relatively new technology, so there is still little information available about how it affects health. A study by researchers at the Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center found that urine from people who use e-cigarettes contained higher traces of lead, cadmium, pyrene and acrylonitrile than people who don’t smoke or vape.

On the other hand, some researchers support the use of vaping as a technique to help adult smokers quit or reduce their dependency on cigarettes. For example, the U.K. government recently launched a campaign to convince smokers to switch to vaping instead. From a health perspective, the ideal solution would be to not smoke or vape, but Public Health England, a government agency, claims vaping is 95% less harmful than smoking and said data from its smoking cessation program showed that 65% to 68% of smokers who used e-cigarettes with nicotine replacement therapies, like patches and gum, successfully quit.

Other places in the United States that are working on or have already passed legislation targeting vaping include Aspen City, which recently passed a ban on flavored e-cigarette products (vape juice comes in many flavors, including ones meant to mimic candy, and that has been blamed for making vaping more appealing to kids). In Maine, a bill is being sponsored that would essentially ban vaping by prohibiting the same of nicotine liquid containers. Many states also have laws in place that prohibit vaping wherever cigarettes are also banned.

Google will start attributing lyrics in its search results to their third-party providers

Earlier this week, music lyrics repository Genius accused Google of lifting lyrics and posting them on its search platform. Genius told the Wall Street Journal that this caused its site traffic to drop. Google, which initially denied wrongdoing but later said it was investigating the issue, addressed the controversy in a blog post today. The company said it will start including attribution to its third-party partners that provide lyrics in its information boxes.

When Google was first approached by the Wall Street Journal, it told the newspaper that the lyrics it displays are licensed by partners and not created by Google. But some of the lyrics (which are displayed in information boxes or cards called “Knowledge Panels” at the top of search results for songs) included Genius’ Morse code-based watermarking system. Genius said that over the past two years it repeatedly contacted Google about the issue. In one letter, sent in April, Genius told Google it was not only breaking the site’s terms of service, but also violating antitrust law—a serious allegation at a time when Google and other big tech companies are facing antitrust investigations by government regulators.

After the WSJ article was first published, Google released a statement that said it was investigating the problem and would stop working with lyric providers who are “not upholding good practices.”

In today’s blog post, Satyajeet Salgar, a group product manager at Google Search, wrote that the company pays “music publishers for the right to display lyrics, since they manage the rights to these lyrics on behalf of songwriters.” Because many music publishers license lyrics text from third-party lyric content providers, Google works with those companies.

“We do not crawl or scrape websites to source these lyrics. The lyrics you see in information boxes on Search come directly from lyrics content providers, and they are updated automatically as we receive new lyrics and corrections on a regular basis,” Salgar added.

These partners include LyricFind, which Google has had an agreement with since 2016. LyricFind’s chief executive told the WSJ that it does not source lyrics from Genius.

While Salgar’s post did not name any companies, he addressed the controversy by writing “news reports this week suggested that one of our lyrics content providers is in a dispute with a lyrics site about where their written lyrics come from. We’ve asked our partner to investigate the issue to ensure that they’re following industry best practices in their approach.”

In the future, Google will start including attribution to the company that provided the lyrics in its search results. “We will continue to take an approach that respects and compensates rights-holders, and ensures that music publishers and songwriters are paid for their work,” Salgar wrote.

Genius, which launched as Rap Genius in 2009, has been at loggerheads with Google before. In 2013, a SEO trick Rap Genius used to place itself higher in search results ran afoul of Google’s web spam team. Google retaliated by burying Rap Genius links under pages of other search results. The conflict was resolved after less than two weeks, but during that time Rap Genius’ traffic plummeted dramatically.