BY EMILY MIBACH
Daily Post Staff Writer
An attempt by three Palo Alto council members today (June 16) to save the iconic Mac’s Smoke Shop at 534 Emerson St. in downtown was snuffed out by the other four council members.
The shop has been around for 85 years and could very well close as a result of the vote last night banning the sale of vaping products and flavored tobacco in town.
The ordinance to ban those products had been approved May 20, but it required two votes, or readings, to become law.
Tonight was the second reading and council members Alison Cormack, Eric Filseth, Lydia Kou and Greg Tanaka voted for the ban while Lis Kniss, Adrian Fine and Tom DuBois voted against it.
That was the same vote as on the first reading May 20. There had been speculation that one of the four who voted for the ordinance might switch their vote tonight but that didn’t happen.
Kniss had proposed an alternative ordinance that would have allowed for the sale of flavored tobacco items such as cigar, pipe and chewing tobacco in adult-only stores and allow for the onsite consumption of flavored tobacco at permitted businesses, as as Hookah Nites Lounge at 235 University Ave.
Kniss’ proposal was in response to the idea that a full-on ban would prevent the closure of the five adult-only smoke shops in town. They are Mac’s, Hookah Nites, Raw Smoke Shop at 265 California Ave., Smokes and More at 3896 El Camino Real, and Smokes and Vapes at 3491 El Camino Real.
Lori Khoury, who owns Mac’s along with her husband Neil, said that between the ban and coronavirus shutdown, “you guys are going to put us to our death.”
Khoury pointed out that flavored tobacco has been around for at least 97 years, and says it’s “beyond puzzling” that flavored tobacco was never an issue before now.
The Khourys have supported a ban on selling vaping products.
Several speakers last night, including Santa Clara County Board of Education member Grace Mah, said Mac’s could simply change its business model and survive.
But Khoury said it’s not as simple as that.
However, Cormack said that allowing flavored tobacco is not consistent with having a healthy city. She pointed out that the only flavored tobacco other than the types being sold for vapes is menthol, where seven out of 10 users are African American. She also said that menthol can still be appealing to children because it cools and numbs the throat.
One resident, Karin Felsher, who is in college, said that her friends who vape like mint flavors.
Jesse Singh, who owns Smokes and More and Smokes and Vapes, asked if the city was also going to ban alcohol since it can also be flavored.
He also pointed out some inconsistency in the city’s attempt to help small businesses. On one hand, the city is closing down streets such as California Avenue and University Avenue to let restaurants open up in the streets, but on the other, are trying to shut down businesses that have never had issues with the city.
Resident Patricia Barr thought it is inconsistent that the council back bills by state Assemblyman Marc Berman and Senator Jerry Hill to ban flavored tobacco while proposing carve-outs for businesses that sell flavored tobacco in town.
The debate on banning vaping products began in December after Cormack, Tanaka and Fine brought a memo to the rest of the council asking to pass a ban on vaping devices.
The council voted on the issue first on May 20, when City Manager Ed Shikada brought a ban on vape products in stores such as 7-Eleven but had an exemption for adult-only smoke shops. The majority of Filseth, Kou, Cormack and Tanaka ended up eliminating the exemption and passed the ordinance that was affirmed today.
The council was supposed to affirm its vote on June 6, but DuBois, Fine and Kniss asked that the item be discussed tonight before the final vote.
DuBois said yesterday that it was clear the entire council wanted to ban the sale of vaping products and said the ban on flavored tobacco impinges on an adult’s personal freedom.