Berkeley City Council explores restriction of flavored tobacco sales near schools

Michael Drummond/Senior Staff
In a survey of 83 Berkeley stores that sell flavored tobacco products, 86 percent were found to be within 1,000 feet of school campuses.

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Following a proposal approved by Berkeley City Council last month, the city of Berkeley is looking into the possibility of restricting the sale of flavored tobacco near schools.

At its Feb. 25 meeting, the council unanimously passed a recommendation that asks city staff to explore creating a 500-foot radius from schools in which stores would be banned from selling flavored tobacco products, including cigarettes, cigarillos and cigar wraps.

Currently being reviewed by the City Manager’s Office, the proposal will be polished to specify if the ban would encompass public and private schools as well as higher education institutions such as UC Berkeley and Berkeley City College.

“This is geared to try to prevent the young people from falling prey to the deceptive ways of the tobacco industry,” said Councilmember Darryl Moore, who co-authored the proposal with Councilmember Max Anderson.

Of 83 stores surveyed in Berkeley that sell flavored noncigarette tobacco products — specifically candy, mint and liquor flavors — more than 86 percent are located within 1,000 feet of schools, according to a recent report published by Healthy Stores for a Healthy Community, a statewide campaign focused on the prevention of tobacco and alcohol use.

“Students who go to school where there are more tobacco retail outlets nearby are more likely to experiment with cigarette smoking,” said Joel Moskowitz, director of the center for family and community health at the UC Berkeley School of Public Health. “We’re not sure if this is causal, but there’s clear evidence that there’s an association between tobacco experimentation and vicinity.”

This proposal was inspired by an ordinance passed in Chicago in December that restricts the sale of flavored tobacco products within a 500-foot distance from a school, according to Moore.

“Chicago was the first city in the U.S. to pass this groundbreaking legislation,” Moore said. “We want to make sure that Berkeley would be the first in California.”

In July 2010, Councilmember Jesse Arreguin introduced an ordinance to establish tobacco-free school zones in Berkeley of 1,000 feet around playgrounds, churches, schools, childcare facilities or other areas youth frequent.

Although his proposal “got lost in translation,” Arreguin said he has brought it back to the city manager and asked that his and Moore and Anderson’s proposals be considered together.

Berkeley’s step toward youth tobacco prevention is reflective of a greater movement across the country to hold the tobacco industry accountable for its impact on younger generations, Moskowitz said.

“The federal government has been pretty inapt of regulating tobacco since cigarettes entered society,” Moskowitz said. “The whole movement toward changing norms within our society with regards to tobacco use has been driven by people acting at the community level, creating laws.”

Contact Ivy Kim at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter @ivykim224.