Berkeley City Council moved forward Tuesday with restrictions on the use and sale of tobacco products, passing one measure on electronic smoking devices and discussing another aimed at making tobacco distribution illegal where children and teenagers gather.
At its first meeting after a two-month recess, the council discussed a zoning ordinance that would prohibit the sale, donation or distribution of tobacco products within a 1,000 foot radius of any school, public library, church, playground or child care facility in Berkeley. It also passed the first reading of an ordinance prohibiting the use of electronic smoking devices any place where regular smoking is not allowed.
City Council voted to refer the zoning measure to the city’s planning commission and city staff for further analysis. Mayor Tom Bates, though, suggested that tobacco sales might be better regulated through business license regulations. He noted that while the proposed zoning ordinance would apply to new businesses, permits for existing business are renewed every year.
Councilmember Jesse Arreguin — who, together with Councilmember Darryl Moore, proposed the measure — suggested that city staff evaluate both ideas. According to Arreguin, the ordinance aims overall to consolidate previously suggested ideas about regulating tobacco use into a single, strong measure.
“This is one way in which we can use our power to counteract the advertising that big tobacco has done in communities of color and to improve our community’s health,” Arreguin said.
The zoning ordinance follows a similar measure discussed by City Council in February, which would ban the sale of flavored tobacco products within 500 feet of Berkeley schools. At Tuesday’s meeting, Moore, who co-authored the measure, noted the disproportionate impact of flavored tobacco products on minorities.
In discussing the second measure, the council heard from e-cigarette users who described the device as a method of quitting conventional smoking.
“I started smoking when I was 12 years old,” said Max Golay, who owns an electronic cigarette store in Berkeley, during public comment. “Tried the patch, tried the gum, tried cold turkey, tried hypnotherapy and that didn’t work. My addiction is the oral fixation, and electronic cigarettes satisfies that without smoking cigarettes.”
Several others, though, shot down the idea that e-cigarettes were truly distinct from regular cigarettes in their negative effects.
“We’ve heard from testimony that e-cigarettes are a smoking cessation device,” said Councilmember Gordon Wozniak at the meeting. “(But) the industry doesn’t advertise themselves as drug cessation devices, they advertise them as cigarettes … I think this is just a smokescreen.”
Councilmember Max Anderson agreed, sharing the story of how he quit smoking 40 years ago, when his 4-year-old daughter asked if she could have a cigarette.
“I said they were bad for you, and she in return asked me if they were bad for me,” Anderson said. “I haven’t had a cigarette since then.
The e-cigarette ordinance must be passed on a second reading before it goes into effect. It would prohibit the use of e-cigarettes in multiunit housing and parks. It makes an exception, though, for the use of electronically delivered medical cannabis within 50 feet of medical cannabis dispensaries for dispensary members and within enclosed units of multiunit housing.
This March, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors unanimously approved a similar ordinance, restricting the use of e-cigarettes in places where smoking is already banned.