The air in Beverly Hills, California, might be a little clearer by 2021, thanks to a new law that will ban the sale of tobacco products in the city.
Officials in the Los Angeles suburb known for glamour, celebrities and over-the-top wealth say they believe their ban is a first in the nation.
“Somebody’s got to be first, so let it be us,” Mayor John Mirisch said.
The city council unanimously approved an ordinance Tuesday night that would prohibit the sale of various nicotine-laden products, including cigarettes, chewing tobacco and e-cigarettes.
The ordinance, which will take effect on Jan. 1, 2021, will apply to gas stations, convenience stores, pharmacies and grocery stores.
The move compounds Beverly Hills’ already-strict regulation of tobacco and nicotine use, which includes bans on smoking in apartment complexes, on public sidewalks, and in city parks, among other areas. The sale of flavored tobacco products is already prohibited by the city.
Mirisch said he hopes that by removing tobacco products, including popular e-cigarettes, from store shelves, the city can prevent kids from developing a nicotine habit.
“Children will not be interested in starting, and (smoking) won’t be looked upon as cool or anything but damaging and bad,” Mirisch said.
As it is, California has one of the lowest rates of smoking in the country, second only to Utah, according to Ruth Malone, a professor at the University of California, San Francisco and editor-in-chief of Tobacco Control, a journal on tobacco control policy.
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“It’s not the first time that communities have tried to do this,” Malone said. “I think when you understand the history of the cigarette as a consumer product, which is the single-most deadly consumer product ever made, it kind of makes sense that finally somebody would say, ‘Wait a minute, this is too dangerous to be sold on every street corner.'”
The new law will have a few exceptions. For example, because Beverly Hills hosts many international visitors, hotel concierges may still sell cigarettes to registered guests. The city’s three existing cigar lounges will also receive an exemption.
Councilwoman Lili Bosse said that the move isn’t intended to tell people that they can’t smoke — only that the city will no longer enable tobacco consumption.
“People’s right to smoke is obviously something we hold sacred,” she said. “What we’re saying is we’re not going to take part in selling it. They are not going to buy it in our city.”
She added that the ban is in keeping with Beverly Hills’ focus on health – physical, mental and emotional. The tobacco ban includes the offer to be able to participate in a stop-smoking program free to city residents and offered through a major hospital.
“Anybody who wants to stop smoking, we will pay for it,” she said.
The American Lung Association commended the city’s decision, but said in a statement that these measures “must not include significant loopholes.”
“The Lung Association supports proven effective tobacco control measures to address tobacco use — the nation’s leading cause of preventable death and disease – and we look forward to seeing the tobacco use data that results from this first-of-its-kind measure,” the association said.
Malone hopes the ordinance encourages other cities to follow suit and puts pressure on tobacco companies to entirely phase out cigarettes.
“People used tobacco in the 1800s,” Malone said. “But they didn’t die from it in the numbers we see now, before the invention of the machine-rolled cigarette and the really aggressive marketing that followed.”
“So, you know, the last century was called ‘the cigarette century’ by a historian of tobacco and the tobacco industry,” she said. “And I think people are beginning to say, ‘Wait a minute, we don’t need to have another cigarette century here, just to protect tobacco companies.'”
Contributing: Chris Woodyard, USA TODAY