City Council discusses buffer zone for sale of tobacco products

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On Tuesday, Berkeley City Council discussed an ordinance that included prohibiting the sale of tobacco products within 1,000 feet of K-12 schools and public parks.

The list of items the ordinance proposes includes a requirement that businesses have a license to sell e-cigarettes in addition to tobacco products. The Health, Housing & Community Services Department said during the meeting that the purpose of the ordinance would be to protect youth so that they are less likely to purchase and use tobacco.

A motion was passed to direct the city manager to bring back a draft ordinance to the council. This draft includes the creation of a 1,000-foot buffer around parks and schools, applied to the sales of electronic nicotine-delivery systems, or ENDS, that include tobacco and/or nicotine products and to sales of flavored cigarettes. Additionally, the draft considers an alternate buffer zone for other tobacco products as well as the allowance of vaping and e-cigarette paraphernalia that does not involve tobacco or nicotine to be sold in the buffer zone. The new draft would also allow ENDS-type delivery products for medical cannabis.

Yet, Councilmember Susan Wengraf, who said she smoked a pack of cigarettes a day for 10 years, expressed concern that the ordinance would not prevent or stop people from smoking tobacco.

“You can buy cigarettes online — you don’t have to buy them at a corner store,” Wengraf said. “The thing that concerns me is that the ordinance really targets the little shop owner.”

Vice Mayor Linda Maio said during the meeting that smoking has become more attractive and fashionable because of different delivery systems and flavors. According to Maio, the ordinance is a tough issue because the health of children is being weighed against the livelihood of shop owners.

“I don’t think there is anyone more opposed to smoking than an ex-smoker,” Maio said, “because you know you have been through hell, it is hard to get off. I am an ex-smoker.”

In January 2003, the city’s Tobacco Retailer Licensing Ordinance took effect, requiring those who sell tobacco products to possess a tobacco retail license that must be renewed every year. In May 2014, the city also implemented smoke-free multi-unit housing.

Robert Tooke is a news editor. Contact him at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @robertono_t.