BEVERLY HILLS, Calif. — Beverly Hills might be most known for its Rodeo Drive, but the California city has just become famous for being the first in the nation to ban the sale of tobacco products—with the exception of a few high-end locations.
On June 4, the City Council officially voted to approve the ban, which still allows high-end hotels (only to guests through concierge services) and a few specific cigar lounges to sell tobacco but bans convenience stores, gas stations, drugstores and grocery stores from doing so, according to a press release from the city.
“This reflects the values of our community,” said Mayor John Mirisch of the restriction, which will take effect in 2021. “We are a city that has taken the lead on restricting smoking and promoting public health. Somebody has to be first, so let it be us.”
Where retailers in other parts of the country have been encountering state and local governments banning flavored tobacco or raising the age to purchase tobacco from 18 to 21, this could be the first city in the country to essentially outlaw tobacco sales altogether.
Actor and former California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger lobbied the city to exempt certain business from the ban. “Great cities are defined by their great people, places and institutions, and the Grand Havana Room is a signature location where these three things come together in Beverly Hills,” Schwarzenegger wrote in a March 11 letter to the city panel considering the policy, according to CNBC. “It is unthinkable that the city might adopt a policy that would intentionally or unintentionally cause the closure of this character-defining institution, and it should not do so.”
For Nick Miller, who operates a gas station in the city, the decision is frustrating. “The level of hypocrisy that has been displayed at this time by the Beverly Hills Council is just astonishing,” he told CNBC. “They’re allowing hotels to maintain the sale of cigarettes because apparently [sic] to somebody buying a $4,000 a night room.”
The Beverly Hills Chamber of Commerce also lobbied for the hotel exemption. In a letter to the city dated April 17, Todd Johnson, CEO of the organization, said, “Approximately 80% of our guests were from cities outside of the United States, many from cultures where smoking is more prevalent. It is our concern that a ban on tobacco sales will deter such visitors, including prominent dignitaries, from staying in Beverly Hills, and will both hurt hotel revenues upon which the city depends as well as encourage people to stay elsewhere.”
Some c-store industry watchers also expressed concerns. “I am not overly concerned if people can’t smoke in Beverly Hills,” Steve Montgomery, president of B2B Solutions, Lake Forest, Ill., told CSP Daily News. “But a lot of what happens on the West Coast migrates east.”