Smoking out tobacco use needed, even if businesses lose

CITY ISSUES: A proposed amendment to the city ordinance would make Berkeley a healthier place

As the country’s leading preventable cause of death, tobacco use should be curbed in as many ways as possible, even if that means hurting some businesses in the short term.

Berkeley City Council might do just that. The council will soon decide whether to stringently limit minors’ — and, in practice, the general population’s — access to tobacco by prohibiting its sale within 1,000 feet of a school or public park. If passed, the amendment to the municipal code would prevent tobacco sales across huge swaths of the city.

While it is unfortunate that some small businesses would lose major revenue from the proposal, those that inadvertently profit from addiction, cancer and death should be forced to change their business models. Additionally, the ordinance would give businesses a one- or two-year grace period to sell off their tobacco inventory, relocate their premises or adjust their business plans.

Many say it would be the nation’s most prohibitive buffer zone yet. The city of Berkeley, though, has a historic tendency to lead other cities as a progressive voice of change.

The proposed alteration of the city ordinance is not dramatically different from Berkeley’s “soda tax,” Measure D, which passed in November and propelled the city into the limelight as the first in the country to tax the distribution of sugar-sweetened beverages. Berkeley voters overwhelmingly showed their support for the tax, which supporters advocated on the basis that sugary drinks have been linked to diabetes and obesity, imposing a negative externality on citizens by straining the health care sector. Similarly, tobacco use has been shown to detrimentally impact the community, not just the users. Cigarette butts, among the most commonly littered items, pollute the environment and do not easily degrade.

Additionally, a 2011 study conducted by the American Public Health Association found that residential proximity to tobacco outlets correlated with the perpetuation of smoking: The tendency to continue smoking increased if an individual lived closer to a store that sold tobacco.

Rolling back tobacco use is beneficial not just for minors, who are already legally barred from purchasing cigarettes, but for the entire population. Because the 1,000-foot buffer radius would cover many commercial areas, it is quite possible that the intent of the proposal is not just to stop youth from obtaining tobacco but also to reduce general use. We understand that schools and parks may be used as political leverage to impose sweeping buffer zones, but the ultimate outcome is one that is positive and worthwhile for the entire population.

There will always be people — minors, too — who will find access to tobacco no matter the hurdles or disincentives that the government imposes. But even if just a few teenagers avoided addiction, even if a few casual smokers ceased their purchases, the ordinance would have helped better the health of Berkeley citizens.

Editorials represent the collective opinion of the Senior Editorial Board as written by the opinion editor.

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