Beverly Hills, California, voted this week to become the first city in the nation to ban the sale of tobacco products within the city limits, except for three high-end cigar lounges where the wealthy hang out.
The city council voted Tuesday to approve the ban, which would apply to gas stations, convenience stores, pharmacies, and grocery stores. High-end hotels are also exempt, but can only sell the products through concierge services.
Wealthy residents, including actor and former California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, lobbied the city to exempt their favorite haunts.
“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,” Schwarzeneggar 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,” he added.
Nick Miller, who operates a gas station in the city, told CNBC before the vote that it would hurt his business. Further, he told the outlet it was hypocritical of the city to carve out exemptions for the elite.
“The level of hypocrisy that has been displayed at this time by the Beverly Hills Council is just astonishing,” he said. “They’re allowing hotels to maintain the sale of cigarettes because apparently [sic] to somebody buying a $4,000 a night room.”
Hotels were exempted thanks to lobbying by the Beverly Hills Chamber of Commerce. Chamber CEO Todd Johnson wrote a letter to the city on April 17 urging them to exempt hotels.
“Approximately 80% of our guests were from cities outside of the United States, many from cultures where smoking is more prevalent,” Johnson said in his letter, according to CNBC. “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.”
Fox News reported that policy and management analyst for Beverly Hills, Logan Phillippo, provided a report to the city council warning about potential legal challenges.
“Courts have not yet reviewed citywide bans on tobacco sales, however, so there is still uncertainty as to whether a court would uphold this type of ban if challenged,” the report said. “Given that no other City in the United States has adopted a comprehensive ban on all tobacco products, the City is likely to face legal challenges.”
The report also explained how to implement the ban.
As Beverly Hills becomes the first city to ban the sale of tobacco to anyone but the wealthy, the U.S. Senate has introduced a bill that would increase the age that someone can purchase tobacco products from 18 to 21. The bill was introduced by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and Sen. Tim Kaine (D-VA). The bill sends the message that an American is old enough to die for their country at age 18, but too immature to smoke for another three years.