Berkeley City Council bans flavored tobacco products, sets minimum prices for cigarettes, cigars

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At its last meeting of the summer in late July, the Berkeley City Council unanimously voted to ban the sale of flavored tobacco, “e-liquid” and electronic nicotine delivery systems such as vape pens, and to regulate the size and price of packs of cigarettes, cigars and other tobacco products.

The City Council discussed the proposal — which was originally sponsored by Councilmembers Cheryl Davila, Sophie Hahn and Kate Harrison — in December of last year, according to a letter to the council members from Berkeley City Manager Dee Williams-Ridley. The council voted to amend the Berkeley Municipal Code at its latest meeting, setting minimum prices for several products and adding a ban on flavored tobacco and vapes. Other cities in the Bay Area, including San Francisco, have recently taken similar measures against the sale of flavored tobacco products.

City Council will reread the ordinance at the council’s Sept. 10 meeting.

According to the letter, the ordinance was designed for both public health and environmental purposes.

“Tobacco waste is toxic and makes up 34 percent of the total litter collected in California,” the council referral reads. “It is a significant component of storm drain debris and contributes to stormwater pollution that negatively impacts water quality and wildlife in the San Francisco Bay.”

However, the main rationale behind the ordinance, according to Williams-Ridley, is to prevent youth and young adults from having easy access to the potentially addicting products.

Davila said in her original proposal from Dec. 11 that she felt as if the issue encompassed issues of race and equity, pointing to the African American Tobacco Control Leadership Council, or AATCLC, which she said has been at the “forefront” of the fight against tobacco in California. In November of last year, City Council offered a proclamation to the AATCLC for its community work, alleging that “the tobacco industry is aggressively targeting the youth by adding candy flavors to tobacco products with no regard to the safety and health of the youth.”

According to the National Youth Tobacco Survey, the most commonly selected reasons for the use of electronic cigarettes among middle and high school students included the availability of a variety of flavors. It also mentioned that rates of flavored e-cigarette use are rising.

“Efforts to prevent middle school and high school students from initiating the use of any tobacco product, including e-cigarettes, are important to reduce tobacco product use among U.S. youths,” reads the website for the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “Continued monitoring of e-cigarette use … is important to guide strategies to prevent and reduce use of e-cigarettes among youths.”

Contact Kate Finman at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @KateFinman_DC.