State's no-smoking laws catch up with Berkeley
BERKELEY -- When a trio of state anti-smoking laws took effect New Year's Day, the people who sell and smoke cigarettes in Berkeley took little notice because, in two of the three instances, the city already had codes tougher than the new state laws.
"They've been ahead of the curve," said Serena Chen of the Lung Association of Alameda County.
Berkeley was an early hotbed of the national anti-smoking movement and home of one of the country's first laws to curb public smoking.
Having shrunk the area where people can light up, Berkeley is now drawing a tighter line around where smoke shops can operate, with a new law banning them near schools and parks set to take effect this month.
Among its trio of laws aimed at protecting children, the state prohibited smoking on all public or school playgrounds.
Berkeley passed a law in July 2000 that bans smoking at tot lots in an effort to spare children secondhand smoke and to eliminate cigarette and cigar butts that often end up in sandboxes when people treat them as giant ash trays.
The city law covers a narrower area -- tot lots and a 10-foot buffer area only -- but has tougher enforcement and sign-posting provisions than the state law.
The state bans self-service cigarette displays, requiring retailers to move all packs and cartons behind the counter. The law also restricts free tobacco promotions and the sale of small packs of cigarettes and tobacco, and steps up enforcement of laws banning tobacco sales to minors.
Berkeley codes go further by including cigars in the self-service display ban. That's important because school district surveys indicate cigar use is on the rise among students, says Marcia Brown-Machen, director of the city's Tobacco Prevention Program.
Cigars often are also used to smoke marijuana as so-called blunts, in which some cigar tobacco is removed and replaced with marijuana.
The third new state smoking law restricts the sale of "bidis" -- hand-rolled, multi-flavored Indian cigarettes high in tar and nicotine -- to adult-only outlets like bars and casinos. Berkeley considered an outright ban on their sale in 1999, but held off as other cities tested the legal waters with such a ban.
Now city officials are pushing ahead with an ordinance prohibiting smoke shops from opening or expanding within 1,400 feet of a school or park, making permanent a temporary moratorium on outlets that sell primarily tobacco and tobacco-related products.
Smoke shops opening or enlarging elsewhere in town will need a use permit that will be the subject of a public hearing under the new law. Such permits have been required on the Telegraph Avenue corridor for several years.
City officials say they haven't received any applications for smoke shops in the now prohibited zones, but residents were spooked a few years ago by rumors that a discount cigarette shop was looking to open near Berkeley High School.
The smoking zone is also shrinking on the UC Berkeley campus, where the ban on smoking near doorways will be extended from five feet to 10 feet next month.
Anti-smoking coordinators say city and state efforts are paying off. California has one of the lowest smoking rates in the nation with 17.1 percent of adults and 7.1 percent of 12-17 year-olds smoking.
California's $134 million anti-smoking budget is the nation's biggest.
A 1999 Berkeley High School survey showed that students there smoke cigarettes less than their counterparts in the rest of Alameda County. The city will spend about $232,000 in state cigarette tax, county funds and grant money this year on anti-smoking campaigns.