BERKELEY (BCN) — The Berkeley City Council voted to place new restrictions on the sale of tobacco products near schools Tuesday night and moved forward with plans to raise the minimum age to purchase tobacco to 21 years old.
Several options to restrict tobacco sales near schools were debated at Tuesday night’s meeting, but the council settled on a plan that would ban the sale of flavored tobacco and e-cigarette products within 600 feet of a school. In addition, no new tobacco licenses will be granted within the buffer zone.
City tobacco program coordinator Tanya Bustamante told the Council the plan could affect as many as 26 tobacco retailers in Berkeley.
The ordinance, Bustamante argued, would prevent access to the most appealing types of tobacco for young people: flavored tobacco, including menthol, and electronic nicotine products, commonly known as e-cigarettes.
Ninety percent of adult smokers started before they were 18 years old, she said.
Smoking is “fundamentally a pediatric disease,” she said.
Several tobacco retailers spoke in opposition to the plan at the meeting, saying it could cripple their struggling businesses and unfairly punish retailers who happened to be near a school.
Council members were sympathetic to the potential economic impact on retailers, but decided some action needed to be taken to limit the availability of tobacco near schools.
“If you’re in a business that the end result is that it harms people’s health, shortens people’s lives, promotes disease, you ought to be thinking on a moral basis,” Councilman Maxwell Anderson said.
The new tobacco restrictions will take effect on Jan. 1, 2017.
The council also moved forward with a plan to draft an ordinance that would raise the minimum age for purchasing tobacco products to 21 years old.
If passed, Berkeley would join over 90 cities as well as the state of Hawaii nationwide and the city of Healdsburg in the Bay Area in raising the minimum age for tobacco purchases. Santa Clara County also recently passed a similar law, which will take effect next year.
The council is seeking to curb the ease with which underage smokers acquire tobacco. City staff cited a 2005 survey that reports 31 percent of people who buy cigarettes for minors are between 18 and 20 years old.
“With a minimum legal purchasing age for tobacco set at 21, legal purchasers would be less likely to be in the same social networks as high school students and therefore less likely to sell or give underage people cigarettes,” city staff wrote in their report.
Tobacco retailers who spoke at Tuesday’s meeting in opposition to the restrictions near schools were in favor of raising the minimum age.
“I think for a change the city is moving in the right direction to prevent youth from getting their hands on tobacco products,” one gas station proprietor said of the minimum age proposal.