Concerned over the adverse health effects of flavored tobacco, especially on its youth, Antioch has banned its sale and tightened other rules related to businesses that sell such products.

On a 3-2 vote with Mayor ProTem Mike Barbanica and Councilwoman Tamisha Torres-Walker dissenting, the city amended its regulations to prohibit tobacco retailers and businesses from selling flavored tobacco products, as well as selling or providing electronic cigarettes and other paraphernalia.

It also will prohibit businesses from selling fewer than six cigars or 20 “little cigars,” including cigarillos, or any packages of these at a cost of less than $ 10, including taxes and fees, in an attempt to discourage youths from purchasing these products.

In a separate but related item, the municipal code was amended on a 4-to-1 vote with Barbancia dissenting, to extend the distance between where a new tobacco business could locate to 1,000 feet from any school, public park, playground, recreational center , or child care center.

Not everyone approved of the tightened rules.

“It appears to me that basically you guys don’t want tobacco shops in the city of Antioch anymore,” former Councilman Ralph Hernandez said. “It seems that the city is headed toward, little by little, eliminating tobacco shops.”

Hernandez said the ordinance did not “apply the law equally.”

“This 1,000 feet distance really will not protect the youth from the tobacco products,” he said. “They have cars, they have other friends, they live close to gas stations and some of the other excluded businesses within your very own ordinance.”

Numerous tobacco shop owners, wholesalers and others spoke against the proposal to ban the sale of flavored tobacco and related products at their shops.

“You are not hurting the big business, you’re hurting the little business,” Ahmad Nasser, a business owner, said. ‘We’re losing business and the city is losing the sales tax. “

“I believe it’s the parents’ job to teach their kids… there’s alcohol and other illegal drugs too,” a tobacco wholesaler said.

Eldon Price, a convenience store owner, said the proposal infringes on people’s rights to choose. “We’re just going to make a criminal enterprise out of this.”

Others asked what the urgency was since there was a state referendum SB 793 on the sale of flavored tobacco will be on the ballot for all to vote on this November.

Bob Gordon, volunteer with the American Cancer Society, was one of several who supported the ban, which was first suggested by the Youth Tobacco Advocacy Policy Project last spring.

“Council members, please use your power to help end the suffering, listen to the youth,” he said. “Antioch can make a difference in reducing its all too-high rates of addiction, disease and death… Someone asked what is the urgency. The urgency is to stop people from taking their first exposure to nicotine, the urgency is to stop people from dying. “

Lizzie Velton of the American Heart Association and Contra Costa Tobacco Prevention Coalition supported the proposals, noting that there is no reason to delay the measures.

“How many more Antioch youth are going to become addicted while someone delays? I urge you to stay strong for public health and side with the youth to fight for the future of their peers. Don’t side with the long arm of the tobacco industry who sell products that addicts and kill our residents. “

But Barbanica said he didn’t believe the city should be “turning its back on local businesses” and pointed out one could cross the street into another city and buy the products.

“This is not about big tobacco,” he said. “This is about the mom-and-pop shops in our own community that we welcomed into our community… And now we’re turning our back on them and saying you can’t sell this.”

“We should be waiting for the state of California (to make a decision),” he added.

Mayor Lamar Thorpe, however, pointed out that the ordinance applies to all retailers, not just tobacco shops, “so no one is being unfairly treated in this one.” He said he thought the measure was “needed” in the community.

Torres-Walker, however, said it was a hard decision because there already are laws against selling tobacco products to youths yet the businesses have not been held accountable, she said.

The councilwoman pointed out that passing the ordinance was not going to “save the lives of communities of color who have often struggled with substance abuse either.

“There still is a liquor store on every corner where you can access liquor and unhealthy food and all of these other things that cause disparity of quality of life in a community,” she said. “… The issue isn’t just a smoke shop on every corner, it’s a liquor store on every corner as well.”

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