Mark McDermott

Citywide tobacco sales ban considered

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by Mark McDermott

The Manhattan Beach City Council will consider a citywide ban of tobacco sales in what Councilperson Steve Napolitano called “a logical next step” after banning smoking in public places five years ago.

The Council on Tuesday night directed staff to research the impacts of such a ban and bring it back on an upcoming council agenda in the form of a possible ordinance. The action came on the same night that Beverly Hills became the first city in the nation to pass an ordinance banning the sale of tobacco products within its city limits.

Napolitano, who along with Councilperson Richard Montgomery proposed that Manhattan Beach engage in a preliminary exploration of such an ordinance, said that the impetus was less about following Beverly Hills than following the city’s own logic in its 2014 smoking ban.

“We banned smoking in all public places in the city,” Napolitano said. “Why do we allow tobacco sales anywhere in the city?”

Councilperson Suzanne Hadley opposed the consideration of a ban. She argued that although “Chardonnay is my drug of choice,” alcohol is just as dangerous as tobacco. Hadley said that attempting to legislate individual choices is a step towards becoming a “nanny state” and banning tobacco sales would damage many small businesses within the city.

“Our businesses are small businesses and they are run by immigrants and families and this would be a devastating loss of income for them,” Hadley said. “I am fine with the smoking ban…we don’t allow alcohol in public places, either.”

Mayor Nancy Hersman said she sympathized with concerns over creating a nanny state, but also said she’d received input from Manhattan Beach Unified School District leaders, who are grappling with the widespread use of tobacco “vape” equipment among teenagers.

“I do know this is a big problem,” Hersman said. “Adults can drive somewhere else and buy products. If we get rid of it here, kids can’t buy it.”

Montgomery asked staff, as part of the motion to bring the matter back to council, to investigate what financial impact a ban would have on local retailers. But he also wondered if financial concerns should drive the discussion.

“I’m not sure,” he said. “Our health is more important than tax income, or anyone’s income…We are not saying you can’t buy tobacco outside of here, just not here. Maybe that one point makes a difference.”

Hadley said the ban would put some local retailers out of business.

“By some estimates, 30 percent of their revenue is in the form of tobacco and Big Gulps,” she said.

“Big Gulps are next,” Napolitano quipped.

“I’m sure they are,” Hadley said.

The motion passed, 4-1, with Hadley the lone opposing vote.

Councilperson Hildy Stern suggested the ban could be implemented in coordination with other nearby municipalities and government agencies.

“Let’s think about who our partners should be,” Stern said. “It should be other cities, as well, and the Beach Cities Health District and the school district…I really support it.”

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