Council outlaws sales of vaping devices, which is expected to close 5 stores including Mac’s Smoke Shop

Mac's Smoke Shop, 534 Emerson St., opened in 1934. Post photo.

ROLL CALL VOTE

Alison Cormack, yes
Tom Dubois, no
Eric Filseth, yes
Adrian Fine, no
Liz Kniss, no
Lydia Kou, yes
Greg Tanaka, yes

BY SARA TABIN
Daily Post Staff Writer

Palo Alto City Council voted last night to ban the sale of vaping and flavored tobacco, a move that will probably mean the end of Mac’s Smoke Shop, which has been at 534 Emerson St. since 1934.

Lori Khoury, who owns Mac’s with her husband, said they purchased the iconic business to continue its legacy as the oldest smoke shops in Palo Alto. Khoury said the shop takes precautions to prevent sales to youth, including having a card reader to check the validity of IDs.

She said taking away the shop’s ability to sell vape products amid the economic hardship caused by the COVID-19 shutdown will force them to close their doors.

The first draft of the ordinance banned vape products in stores like 7-Eleven, but had an exemption for smoke shops that catered to adults only. Council last night eliminated the exemption and passed the ordinance by a 4-3 vote.

The exemption was meant to protect the city’s five small smoke shops, Mac’s, Raw Smoke Shop at 265 California Ave., Red Brick Cafe & Hookah Nites Lounge at 235 University Ave., Smoke and More at 3896 El Camino Real, and Smokes and Vapes at 3491 El Camino Real.

City Manager Ed Shikada said the stores’ owners say they get 60% of their revenue from flavored tobacco and e-cigarettes.

Public Works Assistant Director Phil Bobel said the other stores might do even worse than Mac’s because they don’t have other products. Mac’s also sells cigars, cigarettes, newspapers, magazines, headshop gear and packaged foods.

Councilwoman Lydia Kou was the first to push to close the stores. She said that people are damaged every day that vaping isn’t banned.

She was joined by Councilman Eric Filseth. He said he has seen posters against youth use at Mac’s but thinks even if they are trying it isn’t enough.

Council members observed that at a time when the economic shutdown is forcing businesses to close, this ordinance will contribute to the carnage.

“It’s a crappy year to be introducing further hardships on any business,” Filseth admitted.

Councilwoman Alison Cormack said vaping is a public health crisis. Councilman Greg Tanaka also jumped on board.

Councilwoman Liz Kniss, a nurse, said she is opposed to the ban because Mac’s is an important piece of Palo Alto. She said she used to get the New York Times at Mac’s 20 years ago.

Kniss said she supported the county’s stricter tobacco ban but doesn’t want to kill off more small stores in Palo Alto during the shutdown.

Mayor Adrian Fine said adults should be allowed to legally partake in vices.

He asked whether liquor stores might be next on the chopping block if tobacco shops are banned.

Councilman Tom DuBois said there isn’t a history of problems at the five stores and he thinks banning vaping entirely is government overreach.

After it became clear that a majority of the council wanted to kill the shops, the council waffled for a while about when the ordinance should take effect.
City Attorney Molly Stump told council that city workers have been working on this project for months. She said the policy needs to be clear about what they want before the city can execute it.

Fine tried a compromise that would protect the Hookah lounge and give stores some extra time to sell their good before having to close but it didn’t pass.

During the public comment period, a number of residents and members of anti-smoking organizations told council they want vaping banned.

Irwin Morton, a resident of 40 years, said he is worried that Palo Alto will become a Bay Area go-to vaping destination if local laws are laxer than in surrounding cities.

Sally Ann Rudd said her daughter bought $68 worth of vaping products at Mac’s. Rudd said she caught her daughter by monitoring her debit card and the girl claimed she had just walked in and made the purchase. She said Mac’s can’t be trusted to turn away customers.

“Mac’s needs to change its business model or disappear,” she said.

Police carried out a sting operation in January to see whether stores would sell tobacco to minors who were decoys. Of the 17 stores the decoys visited, three clerks didn’t ask for IDs from the under-aged undercover operatives. None of those clerks were working at adult-only stores.

51 Comments

  1. What’s the point of this vaping ban when you can buy them in Mountain View or Redwood City, or online? Smells like virtue signaling to me.

    • Palo Alto and the Bay Area in general are full of big government “virtuecrats”. Glad I moved to Arizona. I’m a non-smoker but I hate the idea that it’s government’s business to protect people from themselves.

  2. I guess the pandemic didn’t force enough businesses to close, so Council decided to pile on! What a bunch of ideologues.

      • This is great for me. Anyone need some flavored juice or vapes? Pm me because I will be selling them straight out of my garage soon. No ID needed!

    • I think Lulu is one of those emotion-driven liberals who doesn’t understand how damaging her ideas are when implented. I’m sure she feels good banning what she thinks is an evil product. But she has no clue about the collateral damage (loss of jobs, closing of businesses) her ideas cause.

  3. In fact, the ordinance bans the sale of vaping devices, which constitute the majority of these stores’ sales. The owner of Mac’s told council this will force her to close. And council members all acknowledged that the ordinance will close these five stores. Lulu, you need to get yourself informed.

    • What I love is how that fact flies right over their heads. A *tobacco shop* now cannot survive without selling flavored vaping products. Hello? You’re outlawing the solution, not the problem. Its like banning condoms because too many teenagers are having sex, and being a moron completely oblivious to the fact they curtailed the once major problem of STD and pregnancy among teenagers. But yes, you are oh so virtuous for banning these evil harm reduction products!

  4. I agree with Council’s decision, but it should be seen as a baby step toward outlawing all tobacco sales and use in Palo Alto. Palo Alto should become the first city in the country to become totally tobacco free. I propose that we give smokers a grace period of 60 days to either quit or move. Let’s set an example for the rest of America.

    • so it’s ok to impose your values on someone else? how bout we ban lets say coffee or soft drinks and all alcohol how would you feel then?

      • If I neededd another mother, I’ll be sure to call. But I don’t. Adults have a right to do what they want within the existing laws. Mind your own business and leave the resat of us alone.

        • Liz Kniss exhibits screwball logic in making her decisions. Was she practicing social distancing when Joe Biden came to town?

  5. Thank you for your leadership on health, Council Members Kou, Tanaka, Filseth and Cormack. Thank you for putting the health of the public before the selfish sale of candy, fruit and mint-flavored nicotine addiction, family suffering and death.

    A peek at the CDC page for hookah smoking reminds us that hookah smokers are at risk for many of the same diseases as cigarette smokers. These preventable, hookah-related diseases include:

    Oral cancer
    Lung cancer
    Stomach cancer
    Cancer of the esophagus
    Clogged arteries
    Heart Disease
    Respiratory Disease
    Infections passed by sharing of hookah

    Stores will adapt. This is their risk for continuing to hawk such dangerous products.

    • Oh God, Bob, you gotta be kidding me. People who smoke hookah do it with friends maybe once or twice a month. The CDC’s hookah warnings assume people are smoking hookah many times a day like cigarette smokers. High fat diets also kill so should Palo Alto ban selling steaks and whole milk in grocery stores? Big government should keep its nose out of people’s business instead of imposing “virtue” on people.

      • What a bunch of nonsense. Leave consenting adults alone. You’d think the CC would have had other priorities than destroying more small businesses here.

    • This is a violation of personal freedoms and the rights of adults to choose what they want without the governments playing babysitter and our parents. I am a grown woman. I don’t need supervision. I choose what I want, how much and when I want . Vaping stopped me from smoking cigarettes and I am down to almost 0mg of nicotine, thanks to fruit eliquid. This is an ADULT PRODUCT. This unfair and quite possibly unconstitutional. This is government overreach. Remember prohibition? This is the same thing! Leave adults ALONE!! HOW DARE you dictate what people can and can’t do with their personal choices, especially since it does not affect anyone else! You Ban vaping, but cigarettes, cigars, alcohol, marijuana, porn, are continuing to make money. It’s insane that you people insist upon making Vaping the bad guy when everything speaks differently. You insist on using children as the reason for the ban but are not putting the same restrictions on the other adult vices I listed above. The answer to this is enforcing the law that prohibits sales to minors and leave taxpaying ADULTS the hell alone! This is a money issue, cigarette sales are tanking because of Vaping and big tobacco is losing money, as well as the government lackeys who are lining their pockets. Shame on all of you for this. I pray this and all the other bans across this country get overturned and you all get voted out for being greedy, selfish and insist upon turning a deaf ear and not listening to those that Vaping actually helped. Shame on all of you!!

  6. Obviously Sally Ann Rudd’s daughter is the person who cannot be trusted. Her child should not be purchasing a product meant for adults. Parenting is the problem. Will Sally be calling for all the stores to close that sell beer, when her daughter goes out to buy a six pack?

    • Wow… slander and character defamation.

      This is likely something a lawyer can take up with you personally Joe.

      Her actions speak to how highly addictive vaping nicotine pods can be. Because vaping pods are unregulated federally, the pods contain up to 20-40 cigarettes amountts of nicotine. Combine that with the insgtanteous delivery mechanism to the brain, makes this a habit that is cemented into the youth upon 1st puff. Children and youth should not have access to vaping products but studies have shown the closer to the school the vaping stores are, the higher incidence of vaping students have in the School.

      So with extreme addiction, if a student vapes 1-2 pods, they easily get delivery of 40 or MUCH MUCH more nicotine to the brain.

      So. Instant chemical delivery to brain in unexpected high unregulated doses of nicotine.
      To a developing brain.

      You think Sally Rudd’s daughter was addicted?
      Is addiction a disease?
      Or does she have bad character?

      Oh. tough question that one. Do not speak badly of a child when the child was peer pressured and had access to vaping products our stores sold.

      • “Because vaping pods are unregulated federally” – LIES
        “the pods contain up to 20-40 cigarettes amounts of nicotine” – LIES
        Vaping kills 0 per year, Illegal THC Carts killed a lot of people and blamed vaping
        Cigarettes kill 450,00 per year, Alcohol kills 250,000 per year, Car Accidents 100,000 per year – – we need to ban Cigarettes, All Alcohol incl beer and wine and cars …. ban all the cars that are killing people

      • “Oh. tough question that one. Do not speak badly of a child when the child was peer pressured and had access to vaping products our stores sold.”

        So she doesnt have the personal responsibility to say “no” to peer pressure, yet it’s the stores fault…

        Maybe, and I’m just spit balling here, maybe it’s the kids fault for using a product meant for adults.

        Do you also blame Apple/Google when you catch your kid watching porn?

        Do you also blame Ford when your kid takes your car for a joy ride?

        I’m not defending the store if they actually sold shit to minors, but I can guarantee you most of them are buying them online.

        Kids these days can barely handle talking on the phone, you really think they are gonna go into a store to illegally buy something in person?

        Kids today are pussies, and its parents like you who contributed to it. instead of blaming your kid for their fuck ups, you push the blame to others for allowing your kid to fuck up.

        That kids a fuck up. its nobody’s fault but that kids. Be the god damn adult and punish the kid for their actions or they will be in for a very rude awakening once they are hit with real life and dont have mommy and daddy to bail then out of their fuck ups.

    • Wow… slander and character defamation.

      This is likely something a lawyer can take up with you personally Joe.

      Her actions speak to how highly addictive vaping nicotine pods can be. Because vaping pods are unregulated federally, the pods contain up to 20-40 cigarettes amountts of nicotine. Combine that with the insgtanteous delivery mechanism to the brain, makes this a habit that is cemented into the youth upon 1st puff. Children and youth should not have access to vaping products but studies have shown the closer to the school the vaping stores are, the higher incidence of vaping students have in the School.

      So with extreme addiction, if a student vapes 1-2 pods, they easily get delivery of 40 or MUCH MUCH more nicotine to the brain.

      So. Instant chemical delivery to brain in unexpected high unregulated doses of nicotine.
      To a developing brain.

      You think Sally Rudd’s daughter was addicted?
      Is addiction a disease?
      Or does this teenager have bad character? Have you ever done anything you regretted as a teenager, especially when highly addicted?
      Let’s be kind and be the kind of city people want to move into, not move out of.

  7. There was a huge community response advocating for protecting our youth. A tremendous amount of community members and PTA Council members spoke up in favor of mirroring Santa Clara County’s ordinance that many surrounding cities have already adopted.

    A current small store owner spoke saying that allowing adult only stores with special exceptions has pushed his usual clients to the adult only stores in Palo Alto and created an unequal playing for the other businesses in Palo Alto. Is it fair that other stores suffer and lose their business to the 4-5 shops in Palo Alto?
    Cities such as Los Altos doesn’t even have a single adult only store.

    The community has spoken strongly to protect the youth and specifically asked the City to mirror the County’s ordinance.

    Should we save 1 store and continue on with a health epidemic of unexpected consequences for the youth in our city?
    Are the city councilors willing to be brave to protect our community and youth as the Palo Alto residents ask, or will they protect the 1 store they absolutely love because of sentimental reasons?

    Who is protecting community desires and values? Who is the brave councilors willing to stand up for the community and youth?

    • 1. It’s misleading to say the “county” has banned the sale of vapes. It’s actually just the unincorporated areas, with very few stores. I’m sure you knew the difference but you wanted to mislead people.

      2. Selling vapes is legal in Mountain View and Redwood City. And Juul sells online.

    • And bright kids know how to get to surrounding communities and/or to go online. This is one of the stupidest decisions PA has made. They’re not “protecting” anyone; they’re just destroying one of the town’s oldest businesses. For what?

  8. Dr. Bonnie Halperon noted 50%- 75% of the students are using e-cigarettes and has said“youth are easily accessing e-cigarettes from retail and vape shops. Many local vape and retail shops are not IDing youth, and having retail shops so close to schools is a clear predictor of whether youth start to use e-cigarettes (and other tobacco).
    Indeed – PALY students have higher rates of vaping because they are closer to these stores compared to GUNN students.

    The 2019 National Youth Tobacco Survey showed disturbing rates of e-cigarette use among both middle & high school students last year
    -more than 5 million youth reporting having used e-cigarettes in the past 30 days
    -10.5% of middle school students
    – 27.5% of high school students.

    Given pandemic and students and teens are more at risk of mental health issues and wellness, vaping is a higher concern as parents return to work and students are going to be home alone and not supervised.

    There was an article in NPR news yesterday about children of this generation, experiencing the Coronavirus pandemic. I’d like to read it to you, verbatim.

    Even the most fortunate of U.S. children are going through a version of what’s called an “adverse childhood experience” right now. That’s the term researchers use for a traumatic event in a child’s life, such as physical or verbal abuse, a divorce, or the death, incarceration or substance abuse of a parent. The effect of these experiences is cumulative — experiencing four or more of them is considered a major risk factor for long term physical health problems, including conditions like cancer and heart disease.

    The high impact on social isolation and worsening mental wellness on our youth means it is more imperative to provide community support and protect our youth.

    • Math Matters: Here is a breakdown of the NYTS Data. “The number of frequent virgin vapers (using 20-30 days in the past month) increased from 95,000 to 172,000. This means that 1.14% of underage American high school students with no other tobacco use might be addicted to vaping nicotine. Although this is cause for concern, it is far from “a public health crisis in which a new generation is becoming hooked on nicotine,” as the New York Times put it.” https://rodutobaccotruth.blogspot.com/2020/01/2019-nyts-data-reveals-teen-vaping-up.html?m=1

    • So you’re protecting our youth from the traumatic experiences of divorce, verbal abuse and death… by banning a completely unrelated product? Grasping at straws much?

  9. Last I looked this is the United States of America and we have freedom of choice. Sounds like some people are pumped up with their own ability to pass laws that go against our basic freedoms. PA has many more issues to address that would actually be legal to address.
    Leave our Constitutional Freedoms alone.

  10. Hearing about all of this mental health stuff is difficult for any teen to take in. Makes me feel like slipping out and having a smoke, just to take the edge off.

  11. Thank you Council members Cormack, Filseth, Kou, and Tanaka for prioritizing our youth’s health!

    It’s clear this isn’t about closing stores. These stores can still sell unflavored tobacco and adapt their business model which is what has happened in many other cities. This is about cutting access to flavored tobacco and e-cigarettes which are clearly getting in the hands of youth from these “adult only” stores. Having an ordinance without exemptions creates a level playing field for all tobacco retailers in Palo Alto.

    • PB must be a government employee, not somebody who works in retail or the private sector. PB says “These stores can still sell unflavored tobacco and adapt their business model which is what has happened in many other cities.” PB, the economy is dead right now. How does a business “adapt their business model” when there are no consumers? The only way PB could be this dense is if PB got a regular government check.

  12. This is all about closing stores. Anybody who watched last night’s meeting should know this. The city even admitted it. Phil Bobel from public works talked about the need to change the store’s “business model” because they won’t survive. The anti-smoking zealots are apparently ignorant about what’s happening right now in the economy. This could have been done six months ago or six months from now. The economic crash is expected to claim 70,000 lives of people who become despondent and commit suicide, drink themselves to death or do drugs. Those health effects aren’t taken into account by the zealots. They just want their piece of flesh. City Council should have put this on hold, like Liz Kniss and Adrian Fine had suggested.

  13. Can the adult shops sell other adult themed products? I’m thinking red light district. I’m sure that would be a niche opportunity for any PA business. Just think of the clientele we could draw from East PA, Oakland, Richmond, etc…

  14. I’m horrified that the city counsel considers this a priority now rather than working on finding ways to cut the budget. I;m also tired of the “think of the children” obsession that infringes on the rights of consenting ADULTS to enjoy whatever legal pleasures they like. What’s next? Banning potato chips because they’re unhealthy? Meat because you’re a vegetarian?

    Unfortunately, some CC members I usually support have lost my support in the next election. We;ve got bigger issues than playing nanny and destroying the town’s oldest businesses.

  15. PS: I don’t vape; the only adults I know who do were trying to wean themselves from tobacco unless they were smoking marijuana which is legal for ADULTS in California and which Palo Alto voters voted to legalize. For adults. And only for adults. Too bad we never got to partake of the tax revenues from legal marijuana sales.

  16. The people responsable for this need to lose their jobs, their reputations, and their wellbeing.

    Somebody sue these criminal lawmakers

  17. The health and well fare of our students should be most important. I’m proud the Palo Alto City Council took this step and applaud their courage in standing up to those who believe the economic impact trumps values that relate to children’s health. These businesses broke the law by selling to underage minors and should instead focus on how to service the community in more positive ways. I will also base my next vote on how the council voted on this issue and will throw my full support behind those who voted yes!! Thank you for your service to the community!

    • The freedom of ADULTS to buy legal products trumps everything else. Where does it stop?? Parents should control their own kids; it’s not our job to do so. And PLEASE learn to spell WELFARE; you keep posting the same thing with the same mistakes.

      They’re not serving “the community” — just a bunch of control freaks who don’t know how to parent. The girl was too dumb to use cash and now the rest of us — AND DOWNTOWN MERCHANTS — have to suffer. Do you think kids are so dumb they won’t buy the same merchandise online or in nearby towns? Prohibition never works; education does. It’s for your own “well fare”!

  18. For everyone supporting this ban.

    When the states start to ban alcohol, gambling, tobacco, caffeine or sugar how loud will your voices be in opposition? What if you are a gun owner? Are you going to willingly just hand over your fire arms? If you in enjoy owning and operating a motorcycle (which has a substantially higher death rate than vaping) will you give your bike up if they say they want to ban them?

    I vape, I quit a nearly 30 year addiction to tobacco thanks to vaping. I’ve also been sober for nearly 20 years. My right to vape is no different than the next person’s right to smoke tobacco or consume alcohol.

    So before you jump on the ban band wagon, think how you would feel if your city was trying to take away your right to drink, play lottery, own a firearm, etc. Or for this matter, what if your government decided to tell you you can only follow one religion or face jail time? Don’t think it will happen? It has happened multiple times through out history.

    This is not about vaping, this is about governmental over reach. This is about when do we stop allowing our elected officials to dictate to us what is right or wrong? What are you willing to give up since these individuals are being forced to give up something they enjoy

  19. As responsible parents, we’ve decided to stop putting vaping pods in our son’s lunch. If his Juul runs out while at school, tough luck. I realize some of you might say this is a harsh parenting technique, but we call it “tough love.” I think most of you would agree that he should be vaping at home with Mom and Dad, not in a bathroom at Gunn.

  20. If your business model has shifted to majority of your sales of products ultimately geared to teens then that was a risky bandwagon to jump on. And maybe not so ethical. Maybe practical but you took the risk. On the other hand everyone opposed to the ban can kick in some dough and help Mac’s transition their business to stay alive. Go ahead, put your money where your vape products go.

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