Beverly Hills could become first US city to prohibit sale of all tobacco products

Health, Fitness & Food

Beverly Hills City Hall in Beverly Hills, California on January 13, 2018.

Raymond Boyd | Michael Ochs Archives | Getty Images

LOS ANGELES — The Beverly Hills City Council will consider a first-in-the-nation ban on all tobacco sales next Tuesday.

The ordinance would apply to cigarettes, cigars, pipe tobacco, chewing tobacco and electronic cigarettes sold in gas stations, convenience stores, pharmacies and grocery stores. Hotels and high-end cigar lounges are exempt under the proposed measure.

Critics of the measure argue it would shift sales of tobacco to neighboring jurisdictions such as the city of Los Angeles and hurt local small businesses. But supporters contend it would promote healthy living and send a message about the risks of tobacco use.

“We’re a city that has been kind of in the forefront of smoking controls and our tobacco policy in general,” Mayor John Mirisch told CNBC in an interview this week. “Ultimately, public health can and should outweigh just profits or short-term business decisions.”

Back in 1987, Beverly Hills became the first city in California to ban smoking in restaurants and retail stores, although it exempted hotels. Also, the California city known as a playground of the rich and famous adopted an ordinance in 2017 to curb smoking in and around multi-unit residences such as condominiums and apartments.

“Given that no other city in the United States has adopted a comprehensive ban on all tobacco products, the city is likely to face legal challenges,” according to a report prepared for the mayor and City Council.

Mirisch expressed confidence the measure will pass next week. A draft ordinance received support last week from the council. To become law, the ordinance still would require a second reading and final vote by the council June 4.

Cigarettes are displayed on store shelves Tuesday, May 7, 2019, in Beverly Hills, Calif. Beverly Hills is considering outlawing the sale of tobacco products, a move that would make the glamorous California city the first in the nation to enact such a ban.

AP Photo | Jae C. Hong

“The majority of the current retailers that have a tobacco license in the city of Beverly Hills are your mom-and-pop gas stations, liquor stores, and other vendors that do sell tobacco products,” said Jaime Rojas, a West Coast consultant for the National Association of Tobacco Outlets, a trade association representing more than 30,000 retailers.

Rojas estimates the impact for local tobacco sellers could be a decline of 25% to 45% in monthly income. He said some of it is from lower sales of other products, such as water, snacks and gas.

“No one is going to go into a store just to buy tobacco products, no matter how much they like their vendor,” said Rojas. “It’s just a matter of convenience. They will go to a place where they can get everything at once.”

Two dozen tobacco-selling establishments would be affected by the proposed ordinance. If approved, the ban would take effect in 2021.

“This ban would have a significant [impact] on us,” said Nick Miller, operator of a gas station in Beverly Hills. He said sales could fall by “more than 30%” when factoring in other categories affected.

Under the proposed ordinance, hotels would be exempt from the ban along with three upscale cigar lounges, including the Grand Havana Room. The city received dozens of letters in support of exempting cigar lounges, including some from prominent members.

“Great cities are defined by their great people, places and institutions, and the Grand Havana Room is a signature location where these three things come together in Beverly Hills,” actor and former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger wrote in a letter dated March 11 to a city panel considering the tobacco ban.

Added the former GOP governor: “It is unthinkable that the city might adopt a policy that would intentionally or unintentionally cause the closure of this character-defining institution, and it should not do so.”

Miller criticized the city’s plan to allow exemptions for high-end hotels.

“The level of hypocrisy that has been displayed at this time by the Beverly Hills Council is just astonishing,” Miller said. “They’re allowing hotels to maintain the sale of cigarettes because apparently to somebody buying a $4,000 a night room.”

Hotels would only be allowed to sell the tobacco products to guests through concierge services. The Beverly Hills Chamber of Commerce urged the city to retain a hotel exemption, noting the importance of international visitors.

“Approximately 80% of our guests were from cities outside of the United States, many from cultures where smoking is more prevalent,” Chamber CEO Todd Johnson said in a letter dated April 17 to the city. “It is our concern that a ban on tobacco sales will deter such visitors, including prominent dignitaries, from staying in Beverly Hills, and will both hurt hotel revenues upon which the city depends as well as encourage people to stay elsewhere.”

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