Beverly Hills, CA is the New Norm for Tobacco Sales, Not the Outlier

Megan Arendt, ASH 

Late on June 4th, 2019, the Beverly Hills City Council unanimously voted to ban the sale of tobacco products in their city. The lifesaving sales ban will apply to gas stations, convenience stores, pharmacies, and grocery stores starting January 1, 2021. Exemptions are in place for hotel concierge services and a few private cigar clubs who lobbied extensively for that outcome. Council members left room to remove the exemptions at a later date when the bill is re-evaluated.

The public health community applauded the council members and Beverly Hills community for prioritizing the health of their citizens over the profits of the tobacco industry and for ensuring that the use and possession of tobacco products were NOT criminalized in this bill.

On the same night, Manhattan Beach, CA began their own discussions surrounding a phase out of the sale of tobacco products. Council Members sent the topic to staff for further evaluation and review.

“The tobacco epidemic is the greatest manmade catastrophe of all time: it’s on track to kill a billion smokers before the century is out.  But we may look back and say that this was the day that changed all that,” said Doug Blanke, Executive Director of the Public Health Law Center at the Mitchell Hamline School of Law in Saint Paul, Minnesota. “Because with this bold action, Beverly Hills is showing the world an alternative path.  A path to zero tobacco deaths. To a world where we don’t just ‘control’ tobacco products, we phase them out completely. A world free of tobacco-related death and disease.”

Removing the sale of cigarettes is the first step toward truly creating safe and healthy communities for smokers and non-smokers alike. The constant pressure and temptation to purchase cigarettes when buying gas, medicine, and groceries likely contributes to the vast majority of smokers’ failed attempts to quit. In fact, the CDC reports that nearly 7 in 10 (68.0%) adult cigarette smokers want to stop smoking. Removing the sale of cigarettes around them will help.

“I’ll never understand why a product that causes diseases and harm to nearly every organ of the body can be sold at every gas station and drug store. No other hazardous, proven-deadly product receives the same free pass to be sold for mass consumption,” said Laurent Huber, Executive Director of Action on Smoking and Health. “Beverly Hills is the first domino falling for tobacco sales, and other jurisdictions will no doubt soon follow their lead.”

Beverly Hills’ decision to phase out the sale of tobacco products is not unique; but they are the first in the United States. Other U.S. jurisdictions are beginning to take note of the financial toll that cigarette sales carry for their communities. Each year, smoking costs the U.S. economy more than $300 billion, with that broken down to nearly $170 billion for direct medical care of adults and more than $156 billion in lost productivity from premature deaths and secondhand smoke exposure. In California alone, the total cost per smoker is $2,208,472.00 over a lifetime.

“The tobacco industry has conspired to defraud the public about the harms of their product for more than half a century in order to continue profiting from peddling products they know kill when used as intended. It’s time we stopped Big Tobacco from continuing its racketeering acts and perpetrating what some see as mass murder,” said Sharon Eubanks, Former Department of Justice attorney who led the successful RICO (Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations) lawsuit.

Megan Arendt is the Communications Manager of ASH > Action on Smoking & Health.

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