Mark McDermott

Tobacco sales will be banned citywide 

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by Mark McDermott 

The Manhattan Beach City Council Tuesday approved a ban on all tobacco sales in the city. Vaping and flavored tobacco will be banned immediately, while other tobacco sales will be banned at a date yet to be determined, but almost certainly within two to three years. 

In an overflowing council chamber that included Manhattan Beach Unified School District leaders and students sharing horror stories of a “vaping epidemic” among students, public health advocates warning of runaway addiction, and a handful of small business owners who argued a ban would essentially drive them out of business, the council ultimately voted 4-1 for the harshest of the three possible bans staff had prepared for their consideration. 

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“I think it’s important to take a stand,” said Mayor Nancy Hersman. 

Councilperson Steve Napolitano compared the ban to the city’s leadership role in passing other pioneering ordinances, including bans on plastic bags and polystyrene, and smoking in all public spaces and multi-family homes. 

“Somebody had to do something,” he said. “Somebody had to step up. Manhattan Beach stepped up.” 

On the same night that the LA County Board of Supervisors banned flavored tobacco products countywide and called for a statewide ban on all vaping equipment, the council mulled three options: a complete ban on the retail sale of all tobacco products and all electronic smoking devices; a ban on flavored tobacco and electronic smoking devices; and a ban on flavored tobacco. 

Many of those who testified particularly urged the council to ban electronic smoking devices, or vaping, as it is better known. 

Ali Steward, the director of youth services for the Beach Cities Health District, said that surveys indicate one out of every three kids at Mira Costa High School is vaping. One vaping device has the nicotine of 20 cigarettes, she said, making its addictive qualities exponentially more powerful. 

“We know the number one thing you can do for your health and longevity is not smoke…Vaping devices are putting an entire generation at risk,” Steward said. 

Mira Costa Principal Ben Dale called the use of vaping devices by students an epidemic. He said seven years of monthly inspections by drug dogs used to result in almost no detections of tobacco or other drugs. 

“Prior to the fall of 2017, ten suspensions a year was a lot,” Dale said. “Now we are having that in a month when it comes to vaping.” 

Rose Ahrens, the principal at Manhattan Beach Middle School, said vaping has also reached kids at her school. Among the problems is that the devices are easy to hide and often hard to identify, she said, and students who have been discovered vaping are often already highly addicted. 

“Many start vaping and do not know how to stop,” Ahrens said. 

The only testimony against a tobacco sales ban came from store owners of Manhattan Market, Players Liquor, Manhattan Beach Smoke Shop, and Current Events. They testified that not only would banning tobacco sales cost them 10 to 30 percent of their direct sales —  and 90 percent from MB Smoke Shop — but that many shoppers who buy cigarettes also routinely purchase several other items when they come for a cigarette pack. 

“We believe [the ban] is taking away the rights of the residents of Manhattan Beach,” said Heather Kim, owner of Manhattan Market. “Most of our customers who smoke, they are not young kids. We don’t sell to kids; [our customers], they are older, 50 and above…I just don’t want this to keep going on to the next thing you guys deem is not healthy. I am not a smoker and I’m not letting my kids smoke, but this is America, and we can smoke.” 

Feras Adamo, the owner of the Manhattan Beach Smoke Shop, said that kids are not getting vaping devices from retail shops. 

“They are getting it online,” he said. “They are not getting it from us. I only sell to people who are over 21.” 

Adamo said a ban would not accomplish anything except sending customers to surrounding cities and putting him out of business. 

“I want to stay in business. I want to stay in this city. I love Manhattan Beach,” he said, noting that his high-end selections of cigars attract a celebrity following. “Just consider my situation. All I sell is tobacco.” 

The council voted 4-1 for a total ban on tobacco sales, with Councilperson Suzanne Hadley opposing. Staff was directed to investigate both a workable timeline for existing businesses to adapt and possible hardship exemptions for small businesses. 

Hadley said she understood why everyone felt compelled to support a ban but argued that it would do nothing to prevent smoking or vaping while hurting small business owners. 

“Our children are hurting and we all want to act,” Hadley said. “So I get that…But there is a very real human cost to the businesses who have been brave enough to come here and speak.”

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