News

Palo Alto ban on flavored tobacco leaves adult-only retailers fuming

City Council votes 4-3 to outlaw electronic cigarettes, flavored tobacco citywide, with no exceptions

Mac's Smoke Shop on Emerson Street is among the retails who will no longer be allowed to sell flavored tobacco under a ban that the Palo Alto passed on June 16. Photo by Magali Gauthier.

The Palo Alto City Council reaffirmed on Tuesday its decision to ban flavored tobacco throughout the city, despite an attempt by three members to exempt Mac's Smoke Shop and other adult-only stores from the prohibition.

In a vote that mirrored its action on May 18, the council voted 4-3, with Mayor Adrian Fine, Vice Mayor Tom DuBois and Councilwoman Liz Kniss dissenting, to move ahead with the citywide ban. The council was set to formally adopt the ban on its "consent calendar" on June 8, but agreed to delay it and scheduled another full discussion on the topic.

The Tuesday discussion changed little, with the council voting along the same lines as it did on May 18. Those in the majority — council members Alison Cormack, Eric Filseth, Lydia Kou and Greg Tanaka — all supported the broader ban, while Fine, DuBois and Kniss all said the city should exempt stores that only serve customers who are 21 years old and above.

Once again, the council heard from about two dozen speakers, including school advocates, parents, doctors and members of the American Cancer Society, all of whom supported the ban without exceptions. It also heard from a handful of adult-only retailers who argued that the city will effectively put them out of business.

Lori Khoury, co-owner of the iconic Mac's Smoke Shop on Emerson Street, told the council that with the new ordinance, "You guys are going to put us to our death." She also rejected the argument from some critics that Mac's can change its business model to stay in business. The store has been selling flavored tobacco for decades, she said.

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"We have created a history of a business and it's worked for us and now someone will just take it away from us and squash it," Khoury said. "And we're going to have to file for bankruptcy and we're going to have to shut our doors."

Fine, DuBois and Kniss all said they strongly support passing a law banning vaping products but suggested that prohibiting adults from purchasing flavored tobacco is a step too far.

"I don't smoke, but I believe adults should be able to purchase tobacco from a personal freedom perspective," DuBois said.

Fine also said he believes totally banning a legal product is "a bit of a government overreach."

"I do worry … that we are driving longtime businesses out of Palo Alto," Fine said.

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Most council members however, sided with the majority of speakers, many of whom cited tobacco's harmful impacts and maintained that many businesses that bill themselves as "adult only" also sell to youth.

Jennifer Grand-Lejano, Northern California government relations director at the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network, was one of several speakers who argued that if flavored tobacco remains in the community, it will find its way into the hands of the city's youth.

"We cannot put the profit of a few retailers over the health of our kids," Grand-Lejano said.

Patricia McDaniel, a researcher at the University of California, San Francisco who specializes in tobacco control, told the council that smoke shops are already being forced to change their business model. The adult smoking rate fell by 57% between 1988 and 2017, she said, and currently stands at about 10%.

"Tobacco stores will need to transition to other products regardless of what you decide," McDaniel said. "Your goal should be to prioritize public health considerations and the proposed ordinance does just that."

The council majority concurred and voted to approve the new ordinance, with no exception for adult-only stores.

"That is something that, as a healthy community and a healthy city, we need to ensure that this is a product that is not going to be sold here in Palo Alto," Kou said.

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Palo Alto ban on flavored tobacco leaves adult-only retailers fuming

City Council votes 4-3 to outlaw electronic cigarettes, flavored tobacco citywide, with no exceptions

by / Palo Alto Weekly

Uploaded: Wed, Jun 17, 2020, 9:43 am

The Palo Alto City Council reaffirmed on Tuesday its decision to ban flavored tobacco throughout the city, despite an attempt by three members to exempt Mac's Smoke Shop and other adult-only stores from the prohibition.

In a vote that mirrored its action on May 18, the council voted 4-3, with Mayor Adrian Fine, Vice Mayor Tom DuBois and Councilwoman Liz Kniss dissenting, to move ahead with the citywide ban. The council was set to formally adopt the ban on its "consent calendar" on June 8, but agreed to delay it and scheduled another full discussion on the topic.

The Tuesday discussion changed little, with the council voting along the same lines as it did on May 18. Those in the majority — council members Alison Cormack, Eric Filseth, Lydia Kou and Greg Tanaka — all supported the broader ban, while Fine, DuBois and Kniss all said the city should exempt stores that only serve customers who are 21 years old and above.

Once again, the council heard from about two dozen speakers, including school advocates, parents, doctors and members of the American Cancer Society, all of whom supported the ban without exceptions. It also heard from a handful of adult-only retailers who argued that the city will effectively put them out of business.

Lori Khoury, co-owner of the iconic Mac's Smoke Shop on Emerson Street, told the council that with the new ordinance, "You guys are going to put us to our death." She also rejected the argument from some critics that Mac's can change its business model to stay in business. The store has been selling flavored tobacco for decades, she said.

"We have created a history of a business and it's worked for us and now someone will just take it away from us and squash it," Khoury said. "And we're going to have to file for bankruptcy and we're going to have to shut our doors."

Fine, DuBois and Kniss all said they strongly support passing a law banning vaping products but suggested that prohibiting adults from purchasing flavored tobacco is a step too far.

"I don't smoke, but I believe adults should be able to purchase tobacco from a personal freedom perspective," DuBois said.

Fine also said he believes totally banning a legal product is "a bit of a government overreach."

"I do worry … that we are driving longtime businesses out of Palo Alto," Fine said.

Most council members however, sided with the majority of speakers, many of whom cited tobacco's harmful impacts and maintained that many businesses that bill themselves as "adult only" also sell to youth.

Jennifer Grand-Lejano, Northern California government relations director at the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network, was one of several speakers who argued that if flavored tobacco remains in the community, it will find its way into the hands of the city's youth.

"We cannot put the profit of a few retailers over the health of our kids," Grand-Lejano said.

Patricia McDaniel, a researcher at the University of California, San Francisco who specializes in tobacco control, told the council that smoke shops are already being forced to change their business model. The adult smoking rate fell by 57% between 1988 and 2017, she said, and currently stands at about 10%.

"Tobacco stores will need to transition to other products regardless of what you decide," McDaniel said. "Your goal should be to prioritize public health considerations and the proposed ordinance does just that."

The council majority concurred and voted to approve the new ordinance, with no exception for adult-only stores.

"That is something that, as a healthy community and a healthy city, we need to ensure that this is a product that is not going to be sold here in Palo Alto," Kou said.

Comments

Resident
Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 17, 2020 at 10:59 am
Resident, Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 17, 2020 at 10:59 am
32 people like this

This is a dreadful decision. Palo Alto youth who want these things get them online and they can still get them from other towns. It will just put Mac's and others out of business, the last thing we need at the present time.

Following this logic, all alcohol sales should be banned in Palo Alto in case those under 21 get hold of alcohol. See how silly that sounds!


Laruie
Green Acres
on Jun 17, 2020 at 11:26 am
Laruie, Green Acres
on Jun 17, 2020 at 11:26 am
2 people like this

Once again profit over health!


Sally-Ann Rudd
Downtown North
on Jun 17, 2020 at 11:38 am
Sally-Ann Rudd, Downtown North
on Jun 17, 2020 at 11:38 am
18 people like this

I'm happy that Macs has to abide by the same rules as the other 20+ businesses in Palo Alto with tobacco licenses.


A nice guy
Midtown
on Jun 17, 2020 at 11:57 am
A nice guy, Midtown
on Jun 17, 2020 at 11:57 am
9 people like this

More paternalism, my favorite!


Name hidden
Downtown North

on Jun 17, 2020 at 12:47 pm
Name hidden, Downtown North

on Jun 17, 2020 at 12:47 pm

Due to repeated violations of our Terms of Use, comments from this poster are automatically removed. Why?


Nancy
Barron Park
on Jun 17, 2020 at 1:09 pm
Nancy, Barron Park
on Jun 17, 2020 at 1:09 pm
20 people like this

This vote should have been unanimous. We need a city council that puts youth and children first. Never should a business, who's product only kills (tobacco), get priority over our the health and well-being of our children and youth. There was a clear record presented of these tobacco shops selling to our teens. Many of our teens are spending this Summer in rehab from vaping, rather than attending fun Summer activities. Thank you council members Kou, McCormack, Filseth and Tanaka for your votes to supporting the ordinance.


Resident
Old Palo Alto
on Jun 17, 2020 at 2:11 pm
Resident, Old Palo Alto
on Jun 17, 2020 at 2:11 pm
23 people like this

Let's expand this rule to sugar and ban their sale at grocery stores and close fast-food restaurants. Hard to believe banning a legal product takes place in Palo Alto, and people applaud because they are only sensitive to their own personal freedom.


Rebecca Eisenberg
Old Palo Alto
on Jun 17, 2020 at 2:12 pm
Rebecca Eisenberg, Old Palo Alto
on Jun 17, 2020 at 2:12 pm
21 people like this

I agree with Nancy and with the dozens of fellow callers last night who advocated on behalf of the health of our community over the interests of a small number of stores who face declining sales due to health trends and better education about the harm caused by smoking both to our body as well as to the environment.

It's also worth noting that accepting the measure without the exception allowed Palo Alto to save money and resources. Santa Clara County offered take on the costs of enforcing this ordinance, but only if Palo Alto accepted in the same form as the other Santa Clara cities. Had Palo Alto insisted on being one of the only (if not only) cities not to pass Santa Clara's proposed measure, then our taxpayers would have had to shoulder the burden of enforcement.

It should bother us that three of our City Council members voted for our taxpayers to take on this avoidable cost when a free option was available, during the same set of meetings in which it voted to slash financial support of our public school district and essential nonprofits in Cubberly Center - along with other budget cuts to community services. It is frustrating that these council members would displace nonprofits and lessen support for public school students on one hand, while spending limited public funds in order to subsidize the unreasonable demands of a couple stores to sell products well-known to be deadly in the context of Covid-19.

This narrow win was one of the few victories that advocates for students, safety, the environment, and community services received this week, and it was far closer, and harder won, than it should have been.


ALB
College Terrace
on Jun 17, 2020 at 2:33 pm
ALB, College Terrace
on Jun 17, 2020 at 2:33 pm
6 people like this

This was never about stopping a ban on vaping products. I salute the council for finally blocking those products in our town. What I find strange is not permitting pipe tobacco products that are traditional -- think Sherlock Holmes. I do not support the fruity flavored tobaccos which appeal to teenagers. Too bad the council would not allow for the traditional pipe tobacco for adults only.


Hysterical comments
Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 17, 2020 at 2:33 pm
Hysterical comments , Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 17, 2020 at 2:33 pm
28 people like this

The nanny state of Palo alto lives in. Virtue signaling by banning a legal item which is readily available elsewhere, while driving businesses out. Bravo.one has to laugh about Nancy's comment - teens spending the summer in rehab!! I would like to see her days for that claim.
I expect nancy, above, and Rebecca will be pushing for a ban on alcohol, sugar, Saturated fats etc. Why stop with tobacco.
And I can assure you that Rebecca will not get my vote.


"adults only"
College Terrace
on Jun 17, 2020 at 2:45 pm
"adults only", College Terrace
on Jun 17, 2020 at 2:45 pm
28 people like this

I heard from my daughter that her underage friend used a fake ID (different name, very different height) to successfully purchase vape cartridges [portion removed] with her mom's stolen credit card last week. This suggests to me that the shop is not carefully checking IDs to verify the buyer's age. [Portion removed.]


CrescentParkAnon.
Crescent Park
on Jun 17, 2020 at 2:55 pm
CrescentParkAnon., Crescent Park
on Jun 17, 2020 at 2:55 pm
19 people like this

** this new format is not as good as the original **

Whatever one might think of vaping, smoking or flavored
tobacco products ... there is enough real work for our
City Council to do instead of wasting time on stuff like
this that only adults should be deciding about anyway.


HN
Midtown
on Jun 17, 2020 at 4:53 pm
HN, Midtown
on Jun 17, 2020 at 4:53 pm
28 people like this

Unhealthy things we need to ban next:
-Bacon
-Red meat
-Chinese food
-Fast food
-Sugar
-Anything with added sugar
-Soy products
-Movie theater popcorn
-Skateboards (you can hurt yourself on those)
-Prescription painkillers
-And on and on


Online Name
Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Jun 17, 2020 at 5:59 pm
Online Name, Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Jun 17, 2020 at 5:59 pm
17 people like this

@HN, good start to the list but apply the KISS principle and just ban anything that ANYONE considers inappropriate for a child, including books, movies, plays, birth control etc.

Adults should also be banned from possessing credit cards and debit cards because you never know when some kid might steal one and illegally buy an adult-only product or service.

It's high time we started treating all adults like sneaky kids stealing Mommy's credit card. I'm shocked that any of our elected officials could disagree. Toward that end, re-education and inspection programs will be initiated on a block-by-block basis similar to those under consideration to root out gas furnaces. appliances and cars.


I can't breathe
Greenmeadow
on Jun 18, 2020 at 10:27 am
I can't breathe, Greenmeadow
on Jun 18, 2020 at 10:27 am
Like this comment

Maybe Palo Alto can be a clean place to breathe soon...now we just need to ban combustion engines


Ron
College Terrace
on Jun 18, 2020 at 10:55 am
Ron, College Terrace
on Jun 18, 2020 at 10:55 am
3 people like this

Palo Alto is rated G. That's its allure. I was able to quit alcohol here due to the lack of liquor stores. Its just not a vice city.


Anon
Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 18, 2020 at 11:48 am
Anon, Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 18, 2020 at 11:48 am
Like this comment

Posted by I can't breathe, a resident of Greenmeadow

>> Maybe Palo Alto can be a clean place to breathe soon...now we just need to ban combustion engines

Air quality did improve noticeably during the real shutdown, when all the diesel construction trucks were off. That matters to some of us. Thank goodness there are real electric alternatives to diesels starting to be available in the marketplace.


BobH
Palo Verde
on Jun 18, 2020 at 11:49 am
BobH, Palo Verde
on Jun 18, 2020 at 11:49 am
11 people like this

I support banning flavored tobacco.

Kudos to the city council!


David
Midtown
on Jun 18, 2020 at 3:17 pm
David, Midtown
on Jun 18, 2020 at 3:17 pm
5 people like this

Stop banning stuff, people. It's lazy, among other things.


Jose Takamoto
Barron Park
on Jun 18, 2020 at 9:40 pm
Jose Takamoto, Barron Park
on Jun 18, 2020 at 9:40 pm
11 people like this

Congratulations Liberals, You shut down another mom and pop business and made Jeff Bezos even richer! Great Job! [Portion removed.]


Lori Khoury
Downtown North
on Jun 19, 2020 at 10:47 am
Lori Khoury, Downtown North
on Jun 19, 2020 at 10:47 am
13 people like this

I am the owner of Mac's Smoke Shop and I agree with many of the comments that this is government overreach. This is a sad day for us and our shop. Palo Alto is no longer a friendly place for small businesses, especially those that have been around longer than anyone writing comments in this article. The same goes for flavored tobacco, it's been around since the 1920s. If you don't like tobacco, don't buy it, but why take away the rights of others? Certain council members have said how important it is to take care of the small businesses during this already difficult time, thank you for not helping, for those of you that tried, we appreciate your efforts. For those of you that think your kids are going to stop vaping , this wasn't the answer! And by the way - we don't sell to kids. Some kids are very deceitful and lie about how they get their vaping products - kudos to the parents for not wanting to recognize or own the behavior of their children, but are quick to point blame at others. You know who you are and you should be ashamed of yourself and your kid. This seems like a slippery slope Palo Alto is headed down.


Anon
Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 19, 2020 at 12:00 pm
Anon, Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 19, 2020 at 12:00 pm
2 people like this

@Lori Khoury

We all love small businesses, but, you need to find a healthier business. The reality is that tobacco products have a greater negative impact on health than any other legal product. In this study, "Adult male and female smokers lost an average of 13.2 and 14.5 years of life, respectively, because they smoked." Web Link

Depending on what you are measuring, you get different numbers. But, they are all large. "On the order of", as we say, a decade.

"Cigarette smoking continues to be the principal cause of premature death in the United States and imposes substantial costs on society."

Please find a different business to be in.


Online Name
Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Jun 19, 2020 at 12:10 pm
Online Name, Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Jun 19, 2020 at 12:10 pm
4 people like this

@Anon, it's grandpa's right to smoke flavored tobacco if he wants. Maybe you also want to close down all bars, restaurants and supermarkets because kids might show up with false id's and try to buy booze illegally?

It's not like gramdpa and the sneaky kids who stole mommy's credit cards won't find a way to get want they want online and/or in nearby towns.

It's shameful the PA cc couldn't be as nuanced in their anti-vaping law as Los Altos to preserve landmark small businesses. And just a little reminder: vaping for kids was and is illegal. Note that ADULT vapers vape BECAUSE Palo Alto banned smoking in apartments and workplaces so all this does is deprive PA of sales tax revenue that will go elsewhere.


Jose Takamoto
Barron Park
on Jun 19, 2020 at 4:10 pm
Jose Takamoto, Barron Park
on Jun 19, 2020 at 4:10 pm
2 people like this

The Democrats like to remove their historical Confederate States of America era statues and monuments. Mac's Smoke shop has nothing to do with racism. Mac's Smokeshop is a symbol of Palo Alto's History. Why do they have to remove an iconic historical store?


Granny R
Midtown
on Jun 21, 2020 at 4:34 am
Granny R, Midtown
on Jun 21, 2020 at 4:34 am
1 person likes this

For all those who wax nostalgic for Mac's, it is not the nice little store you may remember. It features porn that degrades women and guns/ammo magazines that encourage violence right next to each other, a horrible combination. While I would like to see the historic facade of the building preserved there is no way any of the stuff they carry is good for a healthy society. This is not a Democratic party v. Republican issue as commenters are painting it. I am left wing but come full circle in agreement with conservative women who believe that porn is harmful for women.


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