- Associated Press - Saturday, April 18, 2015

BERKELEY, Calif. (AP) - The city of Berkeley is considering what would be among the nation’s strictest buffer zones for tobacco products, as it tries to keep them away from schoolchildren.

The city is set to vote next month on an ordinance that would prohibit the sale of tobacco products within 1,000 feet of a school or public park, the San Francisco Chronicle reported on Saturday (http://bit.ly/1DUxogw ). The vote comes after the city in November became the first in the nation to pass a tax on soda and other sugary drinks.

The tobacco ordinance is modeled after one in Chicago that established a 500-foot buffer zone, according to the Chronicle. Berkeley’s proposal, however, would apply to many more products. It would also be more restrictive than the city’s marijuana law, which allows cannabis clubs within 600 feet of any school.

Councilwoman Linda Maio said she hopes the tobacco buffer zones will end youth smoking and discourage casual adult smokers.

But the city’s licensed tobacco retailers say the law, which would cover most of the city’s commercial districts, would destroy their businesses.

“I think we’d have to close,” said Mohammed Alajji, who runs the store Fine Stop with his father and brother. Tobacco sales account for about half the store’s revenue.

Berkeley’s ordinance would give affected store owners two years to sell their tobacco inventory and change their businesses.

“This is prohibition disguised as regulation,” said Tom Briant, executive director and legal counsel for the National Association of Tobacco Outlets Inc.

Briant said state law already prohibits store owners from selling tobacco to children, so the Berkeley ordinance is not necessary.

But Councilman Darryl Moore said he hopes affected businesses change and rely less on tobacco revenue.

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Information from: San Francisco Chronicle, http://www.sfgate.com

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